News that the Paia Elementary School lottery for Hawaiian immersion students has been canceled, at least for the upcoming school year, was met with applause at the Office of Hawaiian Affairs Board of Trustees meeting on Oahu on Thursday morning.
The controversial lottery system would have allowed only 40 incoming kindergarten students out of 60 or so applicants to enroll in the school's Hawaiian language immersion program. The lottery had been the center of protests, rallies and debate since school Principal Sue Alivado announced plans last month to implement the lottery because of capacity constraints.
However, a meeting among Alivado, Complex Area Superintendent Alvin Shima and two members of the Hawaiian language community on Tuesday determined that the lottery would be canceled, at least for the upcoming school year, according to OHA officials.
"This is a long-term, statewide issue we've been dealing with," said OHA Public Policy Manager Sterling Wong at Thursday's board meeting.
"This is a huge, huge win," he said of the lottery's cancellation.
The Board of Education will supply a resource teacher to create a third Hawaiian immersion class, which will allow the school to accept all 53 applicants, plus the additional "six or seven" who applied after the deadline, according to Wong.
While the cancellation may offer a temporary solution for Paia Elementary, many parents are still seeking statewide education reform for Hawaiian language immersion programs.
"The unfortunate thing about the Hawaiian language immersion program is that it was started 30 years ago as a pilot program, but even though (enrollment) has expanded to more than 2,000 students, all the administrative policies and statutes are still based on the pilot program," said Wong. He added that the "lack of administrative infrastructure," like rules relating to enrollment and geographic exemptions, has restricted the program from fully thriving.
More than 100 Maui residents attended a community meeting last week to provide what OHA Chairwoman Colette Machado described as "hours of emotional testimony" asking for fair access to Hawaiian language education not only at Paia Elementary but statewide.
"I want to thank the parents who have been patient in trying to resolve this matter," Machado said. "Their hearts are for the unborn generations that will follow. They don't want them to struggle with whether or not they will be able to take Hawaiian language, and OHA stands behind that."
The meeting caused OHA to adopt a list of resolutions that many parents are hoping will be a catalyst for change in the state's policies on access to Hawaiian immersion education.
"This is something we've been fighting every year," said Sheri Daniels, president of Hawaiian immersion parent group Na Leo Kakoo O Maui. Two of her children already attend Paia Elementary School's immersion program; a third child would have been entered into the proposed lottery.
"We're hoping that coming to the table with everybody - OHA, DOE (state Department of Education), community, parents - will change policy . . . I think all of us have the common goal of equal accessibility for those family and children who want this kind of education," Daniels said.
One of OHA's resolutions proposes that Paia Elementary should be converted exclusively into a Hawaiian language school site because the program has grown to a point where two-thirds of enrolled students are part of Hawaiian immersion.
"At Paia, we are no longer a school within an English school, it is the opposite," said Kahele Dukelow, one of the parents who attended the meeting with school and education officials that led to the cancellation of the lottery.
"If there was another Hawaiian immersion school site anywhere in central or Upcountry complex, we would go," she said. "However, there is not. Hawaiian language immersion has been at Paia for 26 years. We are an integral part of the Paia community and are proud of that."
Supporters of the conversion added that there are exclusively English-speaking public schools nearby, like Haiku, Pukalani and Makawao elementary schools.
One of OHA's critical resolutions passed Thursday involves the creation of an "ad hoc committee" led by OHA Trustees Robert Lindsey and Dan Ahuna to oversee open discussions among teachers, parents and school officials in order to address "discriminatory practices" involving Hawaiian language immersion programs.
"Olelo Hawaii as part of our public school program is vital to our people," Machado said. "It is our job as OHA to institute that as a policy."
She said that while the agreement not to have a lottery pertains only to the next school year, OHA will continue to advocate for access to immersion programs statewide.
"We have qualified teachers now who are ready to teach," Machado said. "That could have been an excuse in the past, but not today.
. . . No more excuses. DOE and BOE need to acknowledge this and create a policy; if not, we (OHA) will go to Legislature."
* Eileen Chao can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.