Kamehameha Alumni Plan Ways to Support Embattled School

David Rosen
David Rosen
Wendie Burbridge
Wendie Burbridge

HONOLULU (KHNL) - Kamehameha alumni are banding together in a show of support for their school. There's talks of marches and letter campaigns in response to the latest legal challenge to the school's admissions policy. There are 22,000 alumni; a formidable force if they join up against a common cause, as many are now considering.

The latest legal threat to Kamehameha Schools comes from lawyer David Rosen. He wants to challenge its Hawaiians-first admissions policy. "Who is to be served by the schools? Are the school's trustees entitled to exclude certain groups because of their ancestry? Until it is answered, we're going to have uncertainty and division in the community."

Rosen says he is interested in putting together a group of 10 to 20 students who are willing to challenge the Kamehameha Schools' admission policy. "First you have to get interested people together, then they have to be qualified."

Rosen said his lawsuit would be like the recent "John Doe" suit, in which an unnamed non-Hawaiian student alleged that Kamehameha's admission policy violated federal civil rights laws. "I was very disappointed the trustees decided to force a settlement of the John Doe lawsuit."

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the school's century old admission policy in an 8-7 decision last December. The case was awaiting action by the U.S. Supreme Court when it was settled out of court last week. The terms of the settlement were not disclosed.

Rosen wouldn't give a timeline or state if he's lined up any plantiffs yet, but he did say he's received strong interest from some people. As for a timeline for the lawsuit: "We could get as very expeditions decision from the Hawaii District Court then go to the 9th circuit Court and get an expeditious decision from them as well."

"Personally, I'm extremely outraged," says alumnae Wendie Burbridge, who attended Kamehameha School from kindergarten through 12th grade. She is one of many alumni who are upset about this news. "Kamehameha Schools is only supposed to serve Hawaiian and part Hawaiian children. It doesn't say 'all!'"

Burbridge is trying to rally support. "Please go to the Hawaii Judiciary website and there is a way to voice your concerns about the attorneys," she is telling fellow school mates. (See below.) "If you want to protect (founder Bernice) Pauahi's will and the future of Kamehameha Schools for our children and grandchildren, please consider voicing your opinion to the Office of Disciplinary Counsel. Take the time to email them or send them a letter. Every action we take will only help our cause in the end.   If we all start to speak out about the injustices that face Kamehameha and the Hawaiian community at large, perhaps we can make others rethink suing or becoming part of this lawsuit. Perhaps it will educate others who see Kamehameha only as a cash cow that they do not have rights in which to partake. If nothing else, do not be silent about this matter. We need to fight this like we have always done, with dignity and intelligence. Let's beat these people at their own game. Let's not allow them to take from us or our children."

Inspired by previous alumni rallies, Burbridge is thinking about forming one for this cause. "We have come together to march before against injustices. The Hawaiian community is large and we have a lot of support, even in the non-Hawaiian community."

Her message to Rosen and his supporters? "Don't mess with us."

The Kamehameha Schools Alumni Association has a meeting on June 1. Its president says they will likely talk about staging a show of support as well. David Rosen says he believes his case will still find its way to the Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, a related issue has arisen about the ethics of the way Rosen has approached finding plantiffs. On Monday, an e mail (see link) he put out found its way to many media sources. Rosen denies he ever meant for the e mail to be widely circulated, saying that instead it was only meant for the two people he sent it to. "The intent was imply to get out word that I'm as offering my services to take on this challenge."

"I'm extremely skeptical of that response," says Burbridge. "That's extremely naive for him to think that."