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Mom Demands Hawaiian Language Classes

HONOLULU (CN) - A mother of four claims Hawaii denies children on the island of Lanai their constitutional right to be taught Hawaiian language.

"The Department of Education has a constitutional mandate to establish a statewide public school system that consists of, among other things, a comprehensive Hawaiian education program consisting of culture, history and language," Chelsa-Marie Kealohalani Clarabal says in her Oct. 24 complaint against the state Board of Education. "Nevertheless, children on Lanai, an isolated, rural community do not have access to such a program."

The Hawaiian language was banned in 1896. Less than 1 percent of Hawaii's population are native speakers of the language today.

In 1987, in an effort to help save the language, the state Department of Education established the Hawaiian Immersion Program for kindergarten through sixth grade. It extended the program through the eighth grade in 1994.

Twenty schools have the program on the islands of Maui, Oahu, Molokai, Hawaii and Kauai, but Lanai has none.

Clarabal two of her children sued in Hawaii's First Circuit Court. Clarabal in May was elected chairwoman of the Lanai Council of the Native Hawaiian Education Council, for a 1-year term.

Two of her children began attending the island's only elementary school in the 2013-14 school year as Hawaiian-language speakers.

The 15-page complaint alleges widespread violations of education standards on Lanai, including lack of teachers competent in Hawaiian and severe understaffing. Clarabal claims at least one of her children was "reprimanded" by her teacher for doing written assignments in Hawaiian.

"[The] defendant's failures to address the teacher shortage at Lanai High and Elementary School constitutes a violation of the state's constitutional obligation to provide a statewide system of public school," the complaint says.

Clarabal says the defendants "have a duty to provide for the study of Hawaiian culture, history and language in the public schools and revive the Hawaiian language."

She seeks declaratory judgment and remediation of the constitutional deficiencies.

She is represented by Sharla Manley from the Native Hawaiian Legal Corp.

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