FL MORRIS / FMORRIS@STARBULLETIN.COM
Daniel "Makalii" Hatchie, 6, and his mom, Alice Greenwood, participated in an interview Monday at Century Square. The pair are part of a lawsuit filed by the ACLU of Hawaii alleging the state has violated rules on educating homeless children.
ACLU seeks class-action status for homeless kids suit
When 10-year-old Kaleuati Kaleuati III sees another child at school who, like himself, comes from a homeless family, he understands how his classmate feels.
"Other kids from homeless shelters, when they go to school, they're ashamed because they're homeless," he said.
His mother, Olive Kaleuati, also understands the difficulties of overcoming the stigma attached to being homeless.
That obstacle is made even harder for children, she and other parents say, because of additional barriers they have faced in getting their children enrolled at public schools.
To overcome that, the parents have enlisted the help of the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii, which alleges the state has violated federal law by failing to properly track and educate homeless children.
The ACLU of Hawaii filed a federal lawsuit last month on behalf of homeless parents Olive Kaleuati, Alice Greenwood, Venise Lewis and their five children, but also is seeking class-action status on the basis that as many as 1,600 children could be affected by the lawsuit's outcome.
Attorneys filed the motion for class-action certification in U.S. District Court in Honolulu yesterday, along with a separate motion seeking the state's immediate compliance with federal laws on educating homeless children.
The state Department of Education has referred comment on the lawsuit to the Attorney General's Office.
Attorney General Mark Bennett did not immediately return a telephone message seeking comment yesterday, but has said the state takes seriously the responsibility of educating homeless children.
Gov. Linda Lingle has been lauded by some advocates for addressing the issue of homelessness and taking steps to combat the problem. Last year, she was honored by the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness for her administration's efforts on tackling the issue.
Although Lingle said this week she had not examined the lawsuit in detail, she echoed Bennett, saying the state does take its responsibility seriously.
"They're starting with some real challenges and a good education has been proven throughout the history of this country to be a great equalizer for people and to help people who have had difficult lives," she said.
Among other allegations, the lawsuit contends the state has not done enough to enroll homeless children, provide adequate transportation for them or to allow them to remain at their home school.
Such requirements are set forth in the federal McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act of 1987, which provides states with federal grants for homeless programs. According to the lawsuit, the state receives about $200,000 a year in McKinney-Vento Act funds, but has failed to comply with requirements.
Kaleuati said she was unable to enroll her two youngest children, Kaleuati III and Klayton, 7, at Leihoku Elementary, less than two miles from their shelter at the Waianae Civic Center, because the school did not provide transportation from that location.
Greenwood said her adopted son, 6-year-old Daniel "Makalii" Hatchie, was frequently late because when they became homeless she was forced to escort him on public buses. According to the motion for injunction, Greenwood was told by her son's teacher to "figure something out" or she would be turned in to the school's counselor.
Kaleuati, Greenwood and their children, in an interview with the Star-Bulletin, said they feel the lawsuit is needed to help other parents in similar situations.
"If we don't act and we don't do something about it, our children are going to go through this," Greenwood said.