Thursday, August 21, 2003

Trustees prepare
to defend policies

A federal judge allows a
non-Hawaiian student
to attend Kamehameha

Kamehameha Schools trustees say they will vigorously defend their admission policy despite a federal judge's ruling forcing them to admit a non-Hawaiian for the 2003-2004 school year.

U.S. District Judge David Ezra granted the request by Brayden Mohica-Cummings' attorneys for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction yesterday, and ordered Kamehameha Schools to admit the 12-year-old from Kapaa pending a ruling on the legality of its Hawaiians-only admission policy.

The board indicated yesterday they would not appeal Ezra's ruling. They noted that Ezra did not rule on the whether the schools' admission policy is legal, a question that remains to be decided.

"We all believe our admissions policy is legal, and we will vigorously defend that," said trustee Constance Lau at a press conference following Ezra's ruling.

Attorneys John Goemans, of Kamuela, and Eric Grant, of Sacramento, Calif., filed suit Monday on behalf of Mohica-Cummings by his mother, Kalena Santos.

The complaint contends that the Hawaiians-only policy discriminates on the basis of race and that his admission was unfairly rescinded when he could not prove his mother's biological father had Hawaiian blood.

Outside the courthouse, Grant praised Ezra's decision and said he expects a legal battle ahead.

"But we do believe we will prevail in the end and that Brayden would be permanently admitted to Kamehameha and graduate in the class of 2009," he said.

Kamehameha Schools claimed Santos misled them by indicating the boy was of Hawaiian descent and omitting the fact that she was adopted.

Ezra said the school failed to rescind its offer of admission early enough so that Mohica-Cummings could enroll or attend another school.

"Rescinding his acceptance two days before he was to board an airplane to attend the orientation session is simply too late," Ezra said.

Colleen Wong, acting chief executive at Kamehameha Schools, said it was only on July 8 that they learned from Santos that she had been adopted and gave her additional time to provide her birth certificate and prove her biological father was of Hawaiian ancestry.

While it appeared that the documents earlier provided by Santos were technically inaccurate, "the information apparently satisfied the scrutiny of Kamehameha Schools upon its initial review," Ezra noted in his written ruling.

Santos did not hide her adoption when subsequently questioned by Kamehameha Schools, suggesting she did not intend to be dishonest, he said.

"Clearly, parents cannot make fraudulent or misleading representations regarding their child's suitability for admission," he said. "However, the lack of conclusive evidence indicating that Ms. Santos made intentional representations, when combined with the fact that (Kamehameha Schools) did not make a decision to rescind until this late date, results in a situation that will cause irreparable harm to (the) plaintiff."

Admitting one student under these unusual circumstances "will not dismantle the entire system of education provided by (Kamehameha Schools) for the benefit of Hawaiian children," Ezra noted in his ruling.

Mohica-Cummings is not the only non-Hawaiian to attend Kamehameha, he added. "We really don't know how many others have birth certificates similar to his but have not undergone the same scrutiny."

Last year, the school admitted a non-Hawaiian to its Maui campus, setting off a firestorm of protests in the Hawaiian community. The trustees responded by reaffirming the schools' preference for admitting Hawaiians.

Ezra cautioned that his decision does not mean Mohica-Cummings will be allowed to remain at Kamehameha long term, only until the court orders otherwise.

Headmaster Michael Chun said the school will do all it can to make the boy's experience at Kamehameha a positive one. He said he does not believe there will be a backlash from students stemming from the ruling. "I have tremendous confidence in our kids. They're great kids who come from great families."

But Lilikala Kame'eleihiwa, director of the Center for Hawaiian Studies, said she is sure that there will be those who will oppose Mohica-Cummings' presence on campus.

"You better believe that we're going to have children with an attitude about this kid at Kamehameha because their cousin didn't get in or their brothers or sisters didn't get into Kamehameha," she said.

"When our kids get into a beef with this boy, they're going to get thrown out. Our children will suffer. This is a very bad decision," she said.

She added: "No Hawaiian would put their child in this position and try to go in where they don't belong and where they're not wanted. They're acting like a non-Hawaiian. Shame on her."

Santos has said she regarded her adoptive father as her father in every legal sense and was raised as a part-Hawaiian. Her birth certificate says she is of Hawaiian ancestry, and so does her son's, so "why shouldn't it be acknowledged?" Santos said.

Jan Dill, president of Na Pua a Ke Ali'i Pauahi, a parent and alumni association of Kamehameha Schools, said Ezra's ruling means other Hawaiian children will not get an education.

"It's unfortunate that resources that are dedicated to educating and bettering Hawaiians and part-Hawaiian children are going to be squandered on legal fees because of the mean-spirited track that this group of people have taken," Dill said.

Star-Bulletin reporters Susan Essoyan and Rick Daysog contributed to this report.

Kamehameha Schools trustees and the schools' president, Michael Chun stood behind trustee Nainoa Thompson yesterday after Thompson gave a speech defending the school's admission policies.

Suit brings warnings
of dire effects

Stung by a federal judge's order that the Kamehameha Schools admit a non-Hawaiian boy, the estate's five-member board said attempts to overturn the school's admission policy could have dire social consequences.

Trustee Nainoa Thompson said labeling the Kamehameha Schools' admission policy as discriminatory ignores centuries of injustice to the Hawaiian people.

He noted that native Hawaiians continue to suffer from high poverty rates and low high school test scores. That will only get worse if the Kamehameha Schools is taken away from them, he said yesterday.

"I don't want to talk about discrimination. I want to talk about the poverty in our children," Thompson said. "Look at the need. ... Look at how public schools are not meeting our needs. Take away Kamehameha Schools, and who is? What agent of change in Hawaii is going to bring back our sense of dignity of us as a distinct culture and people?"

He added: "Who is going to pay for the poverty? Who is going to pay for the increased ignorance? Who is going to pay for the increased homelessness?"

Thompson's comment came hours after U.S. District Judge David Ezra issued a temporary restraining order forcing the trust to admit 12-year-old Brayden Mohica-Cummings to its main campus.

Ezra did not address whether the school's admission policy is illegal or unconstitutional, but his ruling adds a new wrinkle to the debate over the estate's Hawaiians-only admission policy.

Earlier this year, the trust was sued by another, unnamed non-Hawaiian child seeking to overturn the trust's practice of giving preference to Hawaiian children. Last year, the trust admitted a non-Hawaiian to its Maui campus after the school failed to fill all school openings with Hawaiian students. The resulting uproar in the Hawaiian community led the trust to reaffirm its Hawaiians-only preference admission system.

Established by the 1884 will of Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop, the Kamehameha Schools educates more than 5,000 children of Hawaiian ancestry each year. The trust, the state's largest private landowner and one of the nation's wealthiest charities, is worth $6 billion.

Yesterday, the trust reinforced its belief that its admission policy passes constitutional muster and cited favorable rulings by the Internal Revenue Service in 1999 and 2000.

Trustee Douglas Ing said that "not all discrimination is impermissible" given that the trust is attempting to "rectify past imbalances to the Hawaiian people."

"It is our position that this type of discrimination, if that's what you want to call it, is legal and is permitted by law," Ing said.

John Goemans, Mohica-Cummings' attorney, disagreed. Citing the federal Civil Rights Act of 1866, Goemans said private schools are not allowed to discriminate by race.

Goemans said the U.S Supreme Court, in the landmark Rice vs. Cayetano case, designated Hawaiian as a race and not as a tribe, making Kamehameha Schools' admission policy "race-based" and therefore discriminatory.

"There is no question race discrimination in private education is unlawful in the United States," said Goemans, who represented Big Island rancher Harold "Freddy" Rice, who successfully sued to overturn the Hawaiians-only voting for the state Office of Hawaiian Affairs.


Brayden Mohica- Cummings: His mom says the move into his dorm went smoothly

Student’s anticipated
first day arrives

Brayden Mohica-Cummings has been looking forward to this day for a long time.

Today is his first day of seventh grade at Kamehameha Schools. But a few days ago, the 12-year-old wasn't sure he was even going to be there.

Yesterday, Mohica-Cummings became the second non-Hawaiian to be admitted to a Kamehameha Schools campus in the last 40 years.

He wouldn't be there had it not been for a federal judge's ruling yesterday, forcing Kamehameha Schools to readmit him after rescinding his admission a week ago.

Yesterday, Mohica-Cummings couldn't wipe the smile off his face after hearing the court's decision.

"I was happy I finally got what I wanted, and just happy I get to go to a new adventure and a great school," he said.

He likes the sports at Kamehameha and wants to join the football team.

"And the education -- I think it's great, better than any other school in Hawaii," he said.

He said he is not worried about the extensive publicity his admission has garnered.

If anyone is worried, it's his mother, Kalena Santos. But despite the controversy surrounding her son's admission, she said she is confident, based on the court's statements, that the school will treat him like any other student and that he will do fine.

"He is a well-rounded boy, very happy, makes friends easily," she said. "I think he'll do good."

She is especially pleased for him "because this is what he's looked forward to for a long time," Santos said.

Mohica-Cummings' move into his dorm room at Maude Post East went smoothly, she said. Although it was a little uncomfortable meeting others for the first time, students and staff welcomed him, she said.

He also saw his cousins and was introduced to his "big brother" -- an older student assigned to help a new student -- who gave him a big hug.

"He's going to adjust real well," Santos said.


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