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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, February 23, 2006

Kamehameha merits another day in court

The verdict isn't in.

A decision announced yesterday by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to take another look at an admissions lawsuit against Kamehameha Schools is positive news, but it hardly means the schools will prevail this time around.

Still, it is a significant move that gives the school much-needed time to gather its thinking and take another shot at demonstrating its admissions procedures are legal.

It also buys a little more time for the other pressing obligation on Kamehameha: coming up with a wise "Plan B" admissions policy in case it loses the legal fight.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals made an unusual decision to rehear its initial Doe v. Kamehameha Schools 2-1 ruling "en banc" by a larger panel of judges. Although the unnamed plaintiff in the case, now a senior, clearly will never attend the Kapalama campus, the broader implications of the lawsuit remain in the balance.

Kamehameha attorneys are understandably buoyed by the news. It's welcome recognition that the case is complex and gives them another chance to argue that the schools' mission to remedy social and economic conditions faced by Hawaiians has relevance.

It's good strategy for the school to show it has increasingly focused on socio-economic need rather than merely on blood quantum, with expansions of programs for early education and other remedial efforts.

Should the courts ultimately decide that civil rights law defeats the admissions policy, what will Kamehameha do to fulfill the mandate of its founder, Bernice Pauahi Bishop?

Kamehameha already supports schools in areas where many Hawaiians live but are attended by non-Hawaiians as well. Another alternative approach would be admission based on socio-economics and evidence of "cultural affinity" interest in Hawaiian language, for example. This would support the best interests of Hawaiians and others who meet these criteria.

It's impossible to know how the court will finally rule. The bottom line is that Kamehameha Schools is a critical resource for the betterment of many Hawai'i people. And that broader service to the well-being of the Islands is what must be sustained.