Access to Hawaiian Immersion Education is now a Constitutionally Protected Right
In a decision Tuesday authored by Justice Richard Pollack, three justices ruled that access to Hawaiian Immersion Education is a constitutionally protected right.
Chief Justice Mark Recktenwald concurred in sending the case back to Circuit Court for further proceedings, but on different grounds.
The Hawaiʻi Supreme Court affirmed the constitutional framer’s intent to revive ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi saying Article X, section 4 of the State Constitution which provides for a Hawaiian education program in the public schools “was adopted for the express purpose of reviving the Hawaiian language.”
The court went on to say, “undisputed evidence in the record demonstrates that providing reasonable access to a Hawaiian immersion program in public schools is necessary to the revival of ‘ōlelo Hawai‘i.” “The State is therefore constitutionally required to make all reasonable efforts to provide access to Hawaiian immersion education.”
The Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation brought forth the original suit arguing that the DOE failed to provide their client’s children access to a Hawaiian immersion education, in violation of their constitutionally protected rights. “This decision is monumental and is incredibly impactful when it comes to accomplishing what the constitution requires the State to do which is to revitalize ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi,” said NHLC Attorney Kauila Kopper.
“Speaking on behalf of thousands of ʻohana who are committed to reviving our ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi, this is a huge milestone,” said Kaʻiulani Laehā, CEO of the nonprofit ʻAha Pūnana Leo. ʻAha Pūnana Leo is recognized in the opinion for being the organization that started the Hawaiian immersion preschools and was fundamental in the creation of the current K-12 DOE immersion program. Laehā expressed gratitude for “NHLC and the Justices for taking the time to dive in and analyze the intent behind this article in the constitution.” ʻAha Pūnana Leo is celebrating this win but also acknowledges the challenges in effectuating the implications of the decision. “This is a time where all of us need to work collaboratively with the DOE to make sure we have sufficient programming that is more than adequate to serve the ʻohana that choose this education for their keiki.”
DOE Kaiapuni Educational Specialist, Kalehua Krug said, “the capacity that we need to build the program is in the Hawaiian speaking community. We need more speakers! This is a call out for people who are interested in learning the language to come forward.”
Reflecting on the decision, Laehā emphasized that, “there is a groundswell in our community right now to ensure that our constitutionally protected traditional and customary rights are acknowledged and upheld. We have been in this fight to revive our ʻōlelo for nearly 40 years now. We are excited to move forward towards more meaningful and effective collaboration between the State agencies and leadership charged with upholding these laws and those of us in the community who are committed to ensuring our mission of E Ola ka ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi.”