Kamehameha Schools responds to new legal challenges

William Burgess
William Burgess
Beadie Kanahele Dawson
Beadie Kanahele Dawson

By Leland Kim - bio | email

KAPALAMA (KHNL) - Kamehameha Schools' officials speak out, a day after it faces fresh legal challenges to its admissions policy. Four new lawsuits question the school's admission policy that gives "preference to native Hawaiians." Some call it discrimination but the school continues to insist it has legal precedence.

Two years ago an appeals court overturned a previous decision, which allowed Kamehameha Schools to continue its native Hawaiian preference. That's the law right now, but these new challenges could change that.

Kamehameha Schools was established in 1887. It educates more than 5,000 students each year. It's financed by a trust willed by Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop, who wanted to educate children of Hawaii, giving preference to "Hawaiians of pure or part aboriginal blood."

Retired attorney William Burgess has long insisted this is discrimination.

"It's a question that really should be answered in any event whether the largest charitable trust in the nation can continue to have a discriminatory admissions policy," said Burgess.

Many native Hawaiians disagree.

"Princess Pauahi's will was made at a time when Hawaii was a kingdom," said Beadie Kanahele Dawson, an attorney of native Hawaiian ancestry. "It was made under kingdom law. It was legal then, and it should be honored as being legal now."

Kamehameha Schools' officials continue to point out that money comes solely from the trust.

"All of our educational programs are purely funded by the resources from our endowment," said Ann Botticelli, Kamehameha Schools' vice president of community relations and communications. "We don't take any federal money. We don't take any state money."

Since the school enjoys tax-exempt charitable status it's required to answer if "the organization discriminates by race with respect to students' rights or privileges and admissions policies."

The school answers "no."

"They give preference or they call it, Hawaiians only or Hawaiians first policy," said Burgess. "That is discrimination based on race."

"To us, it's a question of our founder's wishes to use her private money to provide education for native Hawaiian children," said Botticelli.

For now, Kamehameha Schools has the legal right to continue its admissions policy, but with the new legal challenges, it'll face some tough times ahead.

"That doesn't deter from the fact that Kamehameha will fight vigorously to believe what they believe Princess Pauahi's trust calls for," said Dawson. "And they will not relent on that, in any shape or form."

School officials don't know yet if they'll fight this all the way to the Supreme Court. The first thing is to find out more information about these anonymous plaintiffs, and whether or not they even applied to the school or if they're even qualified for admission.