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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, May 26, 2001

'Hawaiian only' rule by school under fire

By Yasmin Anwar
Advertiser Staff Writer

Kamehameha Schools, which receives more than $2 million in federal dollars a year toward its mission to educate Hawaiian children, has been hit with a discrimination complaint filed with the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights.

The complaint, filed this week, alleges that the school's Hawaiians-only admissions policy discriminates against non-Hawaiians under Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which bars discrimination based on race, color or national origin.

Kamehameha Schools spokesman Kekoa Paulsen said the estate's legal counsel is reviewing the complaint and will recommend action to Chief Executive Officer Hamilton McCubbin. He said he does not know who filed the complaint.

"We do not know who complained or what program they complained about," Paulsen said.

Run by a trust formerly known as the Bishop Estate, Kamehameha Schools receives between $2.2 million and $2.5 million annually from federal sources, Paulsen said. The trust is presently valued at between $5 billion and $6 billion, Paulsen said.

In addition to a government-subsidized lunch program and Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps, federal dollars support the school's Native Hawaiian Health Scholarship Program, Native Hawaiian Higher Education Program, Native Hawaiian Safe and Drug Free Schools and Communities program and Talent Search.

Overall, federal money represents a small portion of what Kamehameha Schools spends on education, although critics say the estate doesn't spend enough. Revenues at Kamehameha Schools soared to nearly $1 billion last year while the school spent $132 million on educational programs and school construction.

The Bishop Estate was established in the 1884 will of Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop, who sought to create a perpetual, private, charitable trust to run Kamehameha Schools for children of Hawaiian ancestry.

Estate trustees have steadily defended the school's mission in the face of challenges to its Hawaiians-only admission policy, arguing that children of all racial or ethnic backgrounds are allowed to apply as long as they have at least one Hawaiian ancestor.

In 1997, Big Island cattle rancher Harold "Freddy" Rice challenged the admission policy with two federal lawsuits. One challenged the policy as a violation of constitutional civil rights. The other was filed against the Internal Revenue Service and charged that the policy violates tax laws. Rice's attorney, John Goemans, voluntarily withdrew both suits because he did not have the money to proceed with the cases.

Later, the IRS looked into whether the school's admission policy violated tax laws and compromised the estate's tax-exempt status. But in 1999, it upheld its 1975 position that Kamehameha Schools' policy was not discriminatory and reaffirmed the estate's tax-exempt status.

Correction: A previous version of this story described Kamehameha Schools as a $10 billion trust. That figure is based on earlier estimates. The trust is presently valued at between $5 billion and $6 billion, according to estate spokesman Kekoa Paulsen.