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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, November 5, 2003

Kamehameha must open up

By David Shapiro

Kamehameha Schools is taking yet another black eye for trying to conceal its problems behind shrouds of secrecy, perpetuating the pattern behind most of the troubles that have dogged the venerable Hawaiian institution in recent years.

The day before before last weekend's ILH championship game against Saint Louis High School, won by Saint Louis 51-19, six members of the Kamehameha football team were suspended for allegedly participating in a video filmed on campus involving sexual activities with at least one female student.

Reports of the incident circulated widely since Friday, but Kamehameha Schools pointlessly let the rumors fester by refusing any explanation or comment.

School officials finally confirmed the reports yesterday — and then only after an unrelated sex assault lawsuit was filed against the school.

This follows the similarly clumsy and secretive handling of the departure of former Kamehameha CEO Hamilton McCubbin amid vague intimations of sexual harassment involving a female employee.

The school's trustees never explained why they dismissed McCubbin months after renewing his $350,000-a-year contract. The trustees' abrupt change of heart cost the estate some $400,000 in severance pay that otherwise could have gone to educating Hawaiian children.

The school's compulsive secrecy was also behind the eruption of Hawaiian protests over the trustees' surprise decision to admit a non-Hawaiian student to the Maui campus, and earlier created fertile ground for the breaches of fiduciary trust that led to the ouster of the previous board of trustees.

Hawaiians and non-Hawaiians who fought so hard to clean up Kamehameha Schools and open up its decision-making worry about any return to furtive management, absence of accountability and lax oversight by responsible authorities such as the attorney general and probate court.

In the football situation, the students involved are minors and entitled to some measure of protection. Discretion and sensitivity are entirely appropriate in handling the matter.

Circle-the-wagons secrecy is not acceptable, however, when violations of state and federal laws may have occurred on the Kamehameha campus. The school has an obligation to clear this up.

While there is certainly no need to rush to draconian action against the students, neither can we look the other way and allow possible felonies to be covered up with private disposition.

The community is entitled to an honest explanation of what happened and what is being done about it. Parents who send their children to Kamehameha or are considering doing so have a right to be assured that administrators are dealing with the situation wisely.

A frank acknowledgment of what happened could serve as a good lesson to students around the state that reckless behavior seen as youthful larks can lead to serious consequences.

Saint Louis didn't get to handle it privately when football players were suspended for partying in Las Vegas with alcohol and exotic dancers. Administrators had to explain themselves to the school community and the community at large.

Milken Community High School, a private prep school in Los Angeles, showed how a bad situation involving student conduct should be managed when news got out that it had expelled three students for making a sexually inappropriate video.

According to The Los Angeles Times, the school's administrator was circumspect yet forthcoming in explaining what happened without identifying the expelled students. He outlined what the school was doing to counsel its students about sex and relationships, winning the respect of the community and the confidence of parents.

If Kamehameha Schools intends to continue soliciting community support for its Hawaiian-only admissions and leasehold land policies, school officials can't keep telling us that what they do is none of our business.

David Shapiro can be reached at dave@volcanicash.net.