Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Private school has settled a civil rights lawsuit brought against them by a student denied admission because he did not possess Hawaiian ancestry

Adam Liptak:

The private Kamehameha Schools in Hawaii announced yesterday that they had settled a civil rights lawsuit brought against them by a student denied admission because he did not possess Hawaiian ancestry. The settlement avoided the possibility of a decision by the United States Supreme Court on the status of Native Hawaiians.

The terms of the settlement, between the schools and a student identified only as John Doe, were not disclosed. But it left in place an 8-to-7 decision of the federal appeals court in San Francisco that allows the schools to admit only students who can prove that at least one of their ancestors lived on the Hawaiian Islands in 1778, when the British explorer Capt. James Cook arrived.

The Supreme Court had considered whether to hear the case four times but had not reached a decision by Friday, when the parties informed the court of the settlement. The case was dismissed the same day.

The schools are the beneficiaries of the enormous legacy of a 19th-century Hawaiian princess, Bernice Pauahi Bishop, who intended them to raise the educational level of Native Hawaiians. Their endowment exceeds $6 billion. They have an enrollment of some 6,700 students, from preschool through 12th grade, with campuses on three islands and preschools throughout the state. Admission is a great prize, as older students pay about $3,000 in annual tuition for an education worth more than $20,000.

The student in the suit dismissed Friday had initially sued to gain admission to the schools, but he has since graduated, making that aspect of his case moot. The settlement presumably includes a payment to him and his lawyers.

In a letter released yesterday, the schools’ trustees said the decision to settle was a difficult one.

“We cannot ignore the treacherous landscape before us,” the trustees wrote. “It is becoming increasingly clear that this lawsuit is only one piece of a much broader risk to the rights of Native Hawaiians, as the indigenous people of this state, to manage and control our resources.”

Eric Grant, a lawyer for the student, said in a e-mail message that he had no immediate comment on the settlement.

The settlement does not preclude further suits challenging the admissions policy, but it could take years for another suit to reach the Supreme Court again, and there is, of course, no guarantee that the court would agree to hear it.

In its decision in December, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that students without Hawaiian ancestry could be denied admission to the schools based on their race without running afoul of a civil rights law. The majority cited what it said were unique factors in the history of Hawaii, the plight of Native Hawaiians and the schools’ distinctively remedial mission.

“The schools are a wholly private K-12 educational establishment, whose preferential admissions policy is meant to counteract the significant, current educational deficits of Native Hawaiian children in Hawaii,” Judge Susan P. Graber wrote for the majority.

In a dissent joined at least in part by six other judges, Judge Jay S. Bybee said the schools’ worthy mission nonetheless violated “the Supreme Court’s requirements for a valid affirmative action plan.”

Race Separation Ratified in 9th Circuit Court Decision on Kamehameha Schools Admissions Policy


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