A wealthy private school created exclusively for its indigenous people is asking a federal appeals court to allow it to continue its race-based admissions policy.
Fifteen judges on the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals were scheduled to hear arguments Tuesday in San Francisco about whether the Kamehameha Schools can continue to limit enrollment to Native Hawaiians.
While the courts have generally ruled against favoritism in education based on race, the Kamehameha case is different. The school receives no federal money. And its policy was based on the will of a Hawaiian princess 10 years before the monarchy was overthrown.
“Her whole intent was to provide a means for educating her people so they could compete in a society that was changing so quickly,” said Kekoa Paulsen, a spokesman for Kamehameha Schools.
A three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit initially ruled 2-1 against Kamehameha’s admissions policy last August. But the full court announced in February it would reconsider that decision. The admissions policy has remained in place while appeals are pending.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of an unnamed white student who was denied admission in 2003.
Kamehameha Schools was established under the 1883 will of Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop as part of a trust now worth $6.8 billion. Part of the school’s mission is to counteract historical disadvantages Native Hawaiians face in employment, education and society.
The case is an emotional one here, with Native Hawaiians claiming they are rightfully entitled to a quality education, and taking that away would further undermine their culture.
Following the initial ruling against Kamehameha last year, 15,000 people marched through downtown Honolulu in protest.
“We’re not asking for a handout. We’re asking to be able to take care of our own,” said Miki Kim, a 1976 Kamehameha Schools graduate who organized a rally last fall supporting the school. “This country is not fair.”