[ OUR OPINION ]
As the roiling controversy concerning Kamehameha Schools' admission of a non-Hawaiian student continues to erupt, some alumni have demanded that the school ease its selection process to enroll more Hawaiian children and to exclude others. What they propose, however, appears to be unconstitutional and illegal because it would have the school discriminate on the basis of race.
Schools must not
lose tax-exempt status
Oswald Stender and other alumni have demanded that Kamehameha Schools' policy be revised to admit only Hawaiians.
Amendments to the Constitution, court decisions, tax law and a packet of other laws have made it clear that a school cannot admit or bar students when race is the deciding criterion. Moreover, the public debate over the schools' policy would raise a further question: Would the admission of a token non-Hawaiian be enough to satisfy the law? That remains to be decided in court, where tokenism seems likely to be challenged.
The will of Ke Ali'i Pauahi, whose estate finances Kamehameha Schools, does not specify that only Hawaiian students will be enrolled in the schools. Even if it did, current federal and state law would take precedence. The will, for instance, says that only Protestants can be hired as faculty, but the courts have overturned that provision, written in an era when discrimination by religion was permitted.
Oswald Stender -- who along with four others was forced to resign as a trustee of Bishop Estate, which formerly controlled the finances of Kamehameha Schools -- says he has submitted a letter to the current trustees of Kamehameha Schools.
"I have asked them to rescind what they have done," Stender said, "and to get a commitment from them not to admit another non-Hawaiian child until all of the education needs of Hawaiian children have been met."
The trustees of the school have said in public they will not change their decision to admit Kalani Rosell to the eighth grade of the expanded Maui campus of the schools. While Stender's demand that no more non-Hawaiians be admitted will be applauded by many in the Hawaiian community, it is not likely to withstand the lawsuit that almost certainly would ensue.
If the trustees acquiesce to Stender's demand, the Kamehameha Schools would stand a good chance of losing its tax exemption as an educational institution under the regulations of the Internal Revenue Service, which would be catastrophic. One trustee estimated the loss of the exemption could cost the schools $1 billion. Kamehameha Schools, which adopted a strategic plan in 2000, has made marked progress in expanding the educational opportunities for Hawaiian children on Maui and the Big Island and has extended its outreach on Oahu and elsewhere in the state.
All of those plans may be severely crimped or lost if the proposals by Stender and others are put into effect. That is a price too high for the schools and Hawaiians to pay.
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