over its admissions
The challenge alleges the
Hawaiians-only policy is
in violation of federal
civil rights laws
The Kamehameha Schools' renewed Hawaiians-only admission policy is being challenged as a civil rights violation under a lawsuit filed yesterday in U.S. District Court.
The lawsuit filed on behalf of an unidentified non-Hawaiian student says federal civil rights laws prohibit private schools from denying admission on the basis of race.
"They bring this action anonymously on the basis of their reasonable fears of retaliation by (Kamehameha Schools) students, their parents and members of the public for challenging (Kamehameha Schools') preference for applicants of Hawaiian ancestry," the lawsuit reads.
In a press release last night, Kamehameha Schools Board of Trustees Chairwoman Constance Lau said: "Although we have yet to see a copy of the complaint, Kamehameha Schools believes that its admissions policy is consistent with applicable law. We intend to vigorously defend our policy of giving preference to applicants of Hawaiian ancestry, and we are confident that we will prevail."
The suit was filed by Big Island attorney John Goemans and Eric Grant, of a Sacramento, Calif., law firm. Three years ago, Goemans' constitutional challenge of Hawaiians-only voting for trustees of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs on behalf of Big Island rancher Harold "Freddy" Rice was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.
The high court held that Hawaiian is a racial designation and that the state voting law restricting OHA's elections to Hawaiians was unconstitutional racial discrimination.
"We fully expect the federal courts to vindicate the principle of equal treatment and force Kamehameha Schools to stop discriminating and to admit our client," said Grant.
Goemans added: "Like Gov. George Wallace of Alabama, the trustees of Kamehameha Schools are standing in the schoolhouse door to prevent the admission of qualified children simply because they have the wrong skin color and bloodline.
"That is wrong, and this lawsuit will demonstrate it is against the law."
Former state Supreme Court Justice Robert Klein described Goemans' comments as going against everything Kamehameha Schools stands for.
"Here we have a program which was set up under a private will to help minority Hawaiians obtain an education so they could participate under an equal footing," Klein said.
"Now you get an image conjured up that is 180 degrees opposite to the Kamehameha Schools program.
"It is offensive and unnecessary, very provocative."
Jan Dill, president of Na Pua a ke Ali'i Pauahi, an organization of about 1,000 alumni, teachers and parents, said last night that the lawsuit was not a surprise and that his organization knew "something was in the mix a couple of days ago."
"It is unfortunate, however. ... Hawaiian people have always embraced people everywhere," he said. "I am sorry that he (Goemans) has decided to take a path that is un-Hawaiian."
"This is not pono (just). ... Shame on him."
While Kamehameha Schools states that its policy on admissions is to give preference to children of Hawaiian ancestry, it still constitutes discrimination on the basis of race in violation of federal law, the lawsuit says.
Kamehameha Schools was sharply criticized by its alumni and the Hawaiian community last year for admitting a non-Hawaiian to its Maui campus, and admitted only students of Hawaiian ancestry this year.
Goemans and Grant recently wrote Kamehameha Schools asking that it set aside its Hawaiian preference policy and admit their client.
In a response letter last week, the schools' interim vice president for legal affairs, Livingston Wong, said, "With respect to your assertion that Kamehameha Schools' admission policy is illegal, we are confident that our admissions policy is consistent with applicable law."
The student plaintiff is the child of a single mother who supports her family with help from public assistance, according to his attorneys.
"He and his family hope to avoid becoming the object of the smoldering fury and 7,000 petitions that reportedly greeted last year's decision by Kamehameha Schools to admit a non-native Hawaiian student for the first time in four decades," the attorneys said.
"As a result of that uproar, Kamehameha trustees publicly recommitted themselves to a 'native only' admissions policy."
Former Kamehameha Schools alumni association President Roy Benham said that according to Princess Bernice Pauahi's will, it is up to her trustees to set up her admission policy and that when the first trustees did so in the late 1800s, it was to ensure the survival of the Hawaiian people.
"The trustees can change it if they want to change it," he said.
"Back then, there were a lot people who thought Hawaiians were going to die out," Benham said.
"If you look at the figures for the first school, there was just a handful of students."
He added, "But the trustees back then knew what Pauahi wanted. ... Her husband was a trustee, too."
Benham says the lawsuit will unify Hawaiians.
"We can't be squabbling amongst ourselves anymore; we've got a common foe now," he said. "So there's one advantage to this.
"We need to come together, and some groups are coming together already because of this threat."
Star-Bulletin reporter Rod Antone and the Associated Press contributed to this report.