Lottery for Hawaiian immersion classes postponed

Dozens of parents and keiki rallied in the rain at Paia Elementary on Monday against a lottery process – suspended the day before – that they said would deny some of their children the right to a Hawaiian language immersion education.

Following last week’s protests in Wailuku and at the school, and a number of disgruntled emails from parents, the school announced Sunday that the lottery, which had been scheduled for Monday morning, had been postponed indefinitely.

The lottery was to select 40 of the 53 applicants from out of the school district to enroll in the Hawaiian language immersion program at Paia Elementary, one of two elementary schools on Maui that offer the program. In notifying the parents, Paia Elementary School Principal Sue Alivado also noted that an additional six students, who registered after the March 1 deadline for geographic exceptions, would not be considered, according to protesters.

“This is procedure, the lottery selection, was not to deny anybody anything,” she said. “We just needed to figure out if we could open another class, and how we would come up with the resources – supplies, qualified teachers, etc. – not only for the next year, but for the next six years,” said Alivado.

But parents opposed to the lottery say the school is denying some children the right to learn Hawaiian, the state’s second official language, and if student capacity at Paia has been reached, then the school, state Department of Education and other governing groups should find another solution.

“If it (the Hawaiian language immersion program) is too big for Paia, we should have it at another school, another community,” said Kahele Dukelow, one of the parents who helped organize Monday’s rally. “We should have it all over the place.”

Paia Elementary is one of only two elementary schools on Maui that offer Hawaiian language immersion programs, the other being Princess Nahienaena Elementary in Lahaina.

Paia Elementary currently has about 186 students enrolled in its Hawaiian language immersion program. The school has nine teachers – two for each grade from kindergarten to 2nd grade, and one for each grade from 3rd to 5th. The ideal teacher-student ratio is 1 to 20, according to Alivado, though a teacher can take up to 25 students without requiring additional support staff. Even if both Hawaiian language immersion kindergarten teachers took on their maximum capacity next year – 25 students each – the school would still need to hire additional resources.

But Dukelow and other parents pointed out that no English-speaking children were being turned away or entered into a lottery system.

“Our kids should eat at the same time, we’re not asking for any more or less,” said Dukelow. “All kids should eat at the same time and be full.”

But that’s not how the school’s admission process works, according to Alivado.

“We’re not at capacity for English-speaking kids. If we were, you’d have the same process (for GE students),” said Alivado, noting that there were only six classrooms used for English-speaking students, three less than for Hawaiian immersion.

The selection process for the Hawaiian language immersion kindergarten has been postponed “to allow the district office and the Office of Hawaiian Affairs to continue their fact findings and data gathering,” according to an email sent by the school to parents Sunday.

The school had attempted to implement a similar lottery selection process in 2010, but parent groups protested. Instead of turning students away, the school found the resources to create a second kindergarten class. Many are hoping for a third, which is why OHA is involved.

“If we open a third kindergarten (class), facilities are going to be an issue,” said Alivado. “I’m always lobbying for resources behind the scene, but there’s not enough commitment to the resources so that I can say ‘yes’ definitely. . . . It’s a continued work in progress.”

Alvin Shima, the superintendent for the Central Maui complex, also noted the importance of finding an equitable solution for all.

“We do support the immersion program, it’s just a matter of limited resources,” said Shima. “Therefore, we need to look at ways as to how we can get resources to the school so another class can be offered.”

He said there will be a meeting “within the next couple weeks” that will ideally involve himself, Alivado, a member of the Board of Education, OHA members and representatives from parent groups.

“I don’t have all the answers, but I want to involve all the right people in coming up with a solution that will answer these concerns,” said Shima.

A formal date for the meeting has not yet been set, though Alivado said she is confident that a solution will be found before the start of the new school year on Aug. 5.

“If there are more students than number of seats in a class, they find the resources to create another class, usually,” said Maui state Sen. J. Kalani English. “But in this school, they said they’re going to do a lottery for remaining seats.”

He called the idea “not well-thought out” and “a poor way to handle the situation.” He called Board of Education officials last week and asked that the lottery be postponed, suggesting the school seek funding from OHA for an additional Hawaiian language teacher instead.

He also noted the effect that the protests and rallies have had on young students.

“We did a blessing of the cafeteria the other day, and the kids inside could hear the loud screaming from the protesters outside. They understand Hawaiian language so they understand the negativities and profanities in Hawaiian,” said English. “It’s just overshadowed what was supposed to be a wonderful blessing for the kids.”

* Eileen Chao can be reached at