Monday, August 15, 2005


Schools should serve
the neediest first

In Doe vs. Kamehameha Schools, the Kamehameha Schools legal defense dream team failed to raise the most important argument before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that resulted in a nightmare decision. Attorneys for what is now a consolidated school did not argue that native Hawaiians are members of a domestic dependent community, like the Pueblos, who have been treated by Congress pursuant to the 1920 Hawaiian Homes Commission Act.


Walter R. Schoettle is a Honolulu attorney.

It would have been difficult for the attorneys to make this argument, however, because the school services a mere fraction of the native Hawaiian population. The truth is Kamehameha serves the elite chosen few who can prove they are fully assimilated, acculturated, educated and sophisticated by scoring well on the school's standardized admission test.

In her will, Pauahi stated her desire to treat orphaned and indigent children who are of "full or part aboriginal blood." If Kamehameha adhered to Pauahi's will and truly sought the economically disadvantaged or indigent and orphaned children, it would be stacked to the ceiling with bona-fide native Hawaiian students.

At one end of the spectrum, a full-blooded aboriginal Hawaiian or any student closest to that by degree is much more likely to meet her criteria. However, today's school trustees are at the other end of the spectrum, misinterpreting Pauahi's will to say that a 1/64th part-Hawaiian would do. Fact is, the school is run, with a few exceptions, by people who possess very little Hawaiian blood as reflected in their admission policies and hiring practices.

For example, in defending Kamehameha, Gov. Linda Lingle herself stated that she could find students at the school who are 95 percent Caucasian and only 5 percent Hawaiian. By this example, Lingle refers to a student, better able to draw from the life experiences and wealth of their non-native Hawaiian parents, benefactors and resources, who excels at the school's standardized admission test.

In contrast, the bona-fide native Hawaiian students who are economically disadvantaged to begin with lack the initial educational edge to compete against these assimilated students with a mere trace of Hawaiian blood that, upon close inspection, really cannot be said to be native Hawaiian at all. The result is what you see on the celebrated annual Kamehameha televised song-contest -- very few bona-fide native Hawaiians.

Put another way, the effect of Kamehameha's admission test is to bar truly needy native Hawaiian students seeking admission. Now, with the Doe decision, this must change. The school should pay attention to plaintiff's attorney Eric Grant, who concedes that the school can set economic criteria for admission and still reach native Hawaiian students in need.

Instead of a biased test for an academic who is the smartest among the assimilated students with a trace of Hawaiian blood, Kamehameha should adopt a strictly economic-need test. Many native Hawaiians throughout the state are homeless, living under tents if they are lucky enough to have a tent. Kamehameha can start to change its ways by reaching these truly needy native Hawaiian families.

The number of indigent and needy native Hawaiians is relatively small and could easily be raised out of their low life condition with the help of a Kamehameha Schools education. On the other hand, the number of phony native Hawaiians now stands in excess of 400,000 and is predicted to reach 800,000 by the next census.

What can be more admirable and consistent with Pauahi's will than her school reaching the poorest of the poor native Hawaiians? I say scrap the academic test that bars the poor and needy native Hawaiian students.

Perhaps the silver lining to the Doe decision is that Kamehameha Schools will be forced to return to a strict reading of Pauahi's will and seek the truly needy, indigent and orphaned, bona-fide native Hawaiian students, especially from the economically disadvantaged Hawaiian homesteads throughout Hawaii, who are now underrepresented in the student body.

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