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Kalani Rosell got straight As in seventh grade and was accepted at a prestigious private school system dedicated to educating children of Hawaiian ancestry. There’s only one wrinkle: Kalani isn’t Hawaiian. His admission to the Kamehameha Schools’ Maui campus has sparked an angry dispute in a state where many take pride in the way diverse cultures always seem to get along. The acceptance follows legal challenges to other state systems that give preference to the people who once owned the islands but now often view themselves as a downtrodden minority. “Every one of their entitlements is being eroded away,” said Oswald Stender, a graduate of Kamehameha and a former member of its Board of Trustees. “Kamehameha Schools is one of the last vestiges of hope for the Hawaiian people.” Kamehameha Schools, with an enrollment of 4,900 students, has three campuses on three islands and more than 30 preschool sites throughout the state. The system was designed to give preference to Hawaiians and part-Hawaiians. However, when all applicants of Hawaiian ancestry who meet admissions criteria have been accepted and there still are openings, qualified non-Hawaiian applicants may be considered. Such was the case at the school’s Maui campus, where available space had doubled in all grades, kindergarten through ninth grade, for the coming school year. There are an estimated 200,000 people of Hawaiian ancestry in the state, from a total population of 1.2 million. Counting the number of youngsters who might be eligible is difficult in the nation’s most ethnically mixed state. One in five residents claimed more than one race in the latest census, while 42 percent described themselves as Asian, 24 percent white, 9 percent Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander and 2 percent black. Admissions to Kamehameha are highly prized, not only for the quality of education but for the low cost compared to other private schools. Average annual tuition and expenses run about $1,400 for high school students and about $1,000 for lower grades. Kamehameha has admitted some non-Hawaiian students in the past. There were three or four in the 1920s, and the children of faculty who were non-Hawaiian were allowed to enroll in the 1950s and ’60s, schools officials said. But the Maui admission prompted criticism that Kamehameha was neglecting native Hawaiians by not offering the spot to a student who may have been close to the admission criteria. “For them to say Hawaiian children aren’t good enough to attend Kamehameha, I think that’s insulting,” Stender said. John Rosell has said the application for his son just happened to be filed at the right time. He said he doesn’t plan to pull his son from the school amid hostility that his admission generated. Some critics have called for the school trustees to resign, while others have started a petition drive demanding policy changes that will give more Hawaiians an opportunity to attend Kamehameha Schools. School officials say the admission will not be rescinded. Hamilton McCubbin, Kamehameha’s chief executive officer, has apologized to the Hawaiian community and said the board now realizes its admissions policy, crafted in 1992, should be revised. He said the board plans to hear public comment on admissions practices, criteria and procedures, increase recruiting of Hawaiian students and provide more help to applicants. “We really believe that it’s really a matter of us mobilizing our community to be more responsive,” McCubbin said. School officials have pointed out that excluding non-Hawaiians completely would put Kamehameha Schools at risk of losing its federal tax-exempt status, costing an estimated $1 billion in back taxes and the loss of about 42 percent of its earnings each year. Although the Internal Revenue Service has affirmed the private system’s admission policies, other preferences given Hawaiians at Kamehameha and elsewhere are meeting new challenges. Last month, an attorney who helped convince the U.S. Supreme Court that “native Hawaiian” is a racial and not a political or tribal status, called on the Bush administration to revoke the schools’ federal tax exempt status. Other Hawaiians-only programs also have been challenged. A lawsuit pending in U.S. District Court in Honolulu seeks to shut down the state’s Hawaiian Homes program and Office of Hawaiian Affairs, arguing they are unconstitutional race discrimination. Copyright 2002 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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