A five-judge federal appeals court panel’s ruling against the anonymity of non-Hawaiian students seeking admission to Kamehameha Schools is sound, although dissents have stirred misguided accusations of race-related bullying of students in Hawaii public schools. While state schools have been admonished by the U.S. Department of Education for failing to respond to harassment, that has nothing to do with the Kamehameha case.
In a dissent of a ruling by a panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Chief Appeals Judge Alex Kozinski and Judge Stephen Reinhardt referred to "Kill Haole Day" at Hawaii schools and argued that four non-Hawaiian students would be endangered if their names were made public. This, despite the four students’ own statements that they did not fear "possible retaliation and ostracism" at the schools if they were admitted.
The two judges cited a 1999 article in the Honolulu Star-Bulletin quoting then-state Rep. Jim Rath, a Republican from Kona, suggesting that "Kill Haole Day" was a long-standing tradition in some schools on the last day of the school year. Then-schools Superintendent Paul LeMahieu was quoted as saying he was aware of "Kill Haole Day" and that he hoped it was a thing of the past, although the yearly occurrence of such harassment cannot be substantiated.
Addressing a parent’s complaint, federal education officials found last December that the state had failed to adhere to federal civil rights laws by not responding to complaints about race- or sex-based "assaults or other physical harassment" at the Big Island’s Kealakehe campus. Federal investigators found evidence that "most, if not all" of harassed students on the Kona campus were Caucasian, especially "younger, smaller students" who were light-skinned or blond. The department’s director of civil rights compliance has said it is taking steps to enforce anti-discrimination rules. Indeed, such action must be taken in any legitimately intimidating situation.
But that is not the case here. In fact, the only non-Hawaiian admitted to Kamehameha for extensive schooling in recent years fared well and was called "Snowy" by classmates as a term of endearment. Kalani Rosell entered Kamehameha on Maui in 2002, excelled in swimming and track and graduated in 2007. A community outcry had followed his acceptance at the school after the list of qualified native Hawaiians students had been exhausted. Rosell has said students did not talk to him during his first days at Kamehameha. That soon changed and he said his relationships at the relatively small school soon turned into "the close feeling of ohana." He is now a senior at Yale University.
Rosell did not seek, nor was he covered by, anonymity when he applied for admission to Kamehameha’s Maui school. His experience revealed that threats or retaliation due to racism did not result, and this is the real-life proof that should be noted, not the vague urban myth of "Kill Haole Day" cited recently by the two dissenting judges.
The three judges who did rule that the names of the four student applicants at Kamehameha should be made public rightly pointed to past cases — the 2003 lawsuit seeking acceptance of Brayden Mohica-Cummings at Kamehameha and third-grader Linda Brown in the landmark 1954 case of Brown v. Board of Education. Rarely should anonymity be granted in federal lawsuits — in this case, judicial overreaching into an unsubstantiated and hypothetical "racially charged environment" does not qualify for that rarity.