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Saturday, December 6, 2003




[ OUR OPINION ]


Lawsuit settlement
good strategy by
schools’ trustees


THE ISSUE

A federal court judge has given approval to the agreement on a discrimination claim against the schools.


KAMEHAMEHA Schools' decision to settle a discrimination lawsuit brought by a non-Hawaiian boy strategically sheds a case that, while similar to another the institution has thus far defended successfully, risked blurring its focus and diffusing efforts to maintain its admissions policy.

For Hawaiians displeased with the agreement, however, the pact salts cultural wounds, more so when the court needlessly injected an interpretation of Hawaiian adoption traditions while hinting about an outcome had the suit gone forward.

Nonetheless, the resolution frees Kamehameha Schools to defend an appeal of a ruling in its favor.

The settlement received U.S. District Judge David Ezra's approval this week, the final step that will allow Brayden Mohica-Cummings to attend Kamehameha through graduation. Ezra had ordered the school to admit the 12-year-old after school officials rescinded preliminary acceptance when they learned his mother's claim of required ancestry was through her informal adoption by a Hawaiian man, a practice known as hanai.

Although difficult, Kamehameha's Board of Trustees made the right decision.

Ezra had not yet ruled on the validity of Mohica-Cummings' discrimination charge, and prior to the settlement, Kamehameha had received a favorable ruling in another case from U.S. District Judge Alan Kay, who upheld the schools' century-old policy, turning down a challenge from an unidentified non-Hawaiian student.

Kay ruled that the schools' race-conscious policy served a legitimate purpose, attempting to remedy past injustices and existing economic and educational imbalances faced by Hawaiians since the overthrow of their monarchy more than 100 years ago.

The Mohica-Cummings case was clouded by his mother's contention that her adoption makes her Hawaiian and extends, then, to her son. The difficulty her lawyers would have in claiming discrimination while she maintained she is Hawaiian, along with Kay's ruling, may have prompted their willingness to settle.

That aside, it was best that the trustees put the case behind them. However he decided, Ezra's ruling would have been appealed; meanwhile, the boy likely would have remained enrolled anyway.

In addition, Ezra's remarks in approving the settlement appeared to indicate his willingness to accept the adoption argument, citing the Hawaii Supreme Court's granting of ancestral rights to hanai children. In light of that, trustee Douglas Ing said that the board "made the right decision, especially after hearing Judge Ezra's comments."

Ezra's statements provoked some sharp reaction from Hawaiians who took issue with his interpretation of their cultural traditions. While understandable, the schools' supporters should recognize that the trustees' strategy is to consolidate efforts for the struggle ahead, to live to fight another day.

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Oahu Publications, Inc. publishes the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, MidWeek and military newspapers

David Black, Dan Case, Larry Johnson,
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