Access to Hawaiian Immersion Education Confirmed by State Supreme Court

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In a 4-to-1 decision on Aug. 14, 2019, the state Supreme Court ruled that 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 when 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 (NHLC) 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,” noted 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 (ʻAPL).


ʻAPL 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.”

ʻAPL 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 added, “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, “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!”

About ‘Aha Pūnana Leo

ʻAha Pūnana Leo is a Native Hawaiian nonprofit that was established in 1983 with a vision of “E Ola Ka ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi” (The Hawaiian Language Shall Live) and a mission to revitalize the Hawaiian language as a living language in Hawaiʻi and beyond. The organization has implemented multiple programs since inception from preschools and K-12 follow up sites to curriculum development, higher education scholarship programs, voyaging programs and broadcast media initiatives. The Pūnana Leo preschools are the foundation of its programming, currently serving over 300 keiki and their ʻohana at 12 sites throughout the state. For more information, visit


About the Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation (NHLC)

NHLC is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, public interest law firm that practices exclusively in the area of Native Hawaiian rights law. We provide legal services and other advocacy to families and communities who practice and perpetuate the culture and traditions of Hawaiʻi’s indigenous people. Seeded from a 1974 grass roots movement to help families protect their ancestral lands, what was once a volunteer-run referral service is now Hawai‘i’s preeminent Native Hawaiian rights law firm servicing approximately 400 clients annually. For more information, visit

About DOE Office of Hawaiian Education

The Office of Hawaiian Education, of the Office of the Superintendent, is the hub of Hawaiian educational issues for the Department of Education. Charged with implementing BOE Policies 105-7, 105-8 and E-3, this office works with all Department schools and utilizes resources for collective impact supports to increase academic success for Native Hawaiian students through Hawaiian language and cultural studies. This office houses Ka Papahana Kaiapuni, Hawaiian Studies, Pihana Nā Mamo and Nā Hopena Aʻo.

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