New Hawaiʻi Supreme Court Decision on ‘Ōlelo Hawai‘i

By Roberta Freeland Woods, J.D., M.L.I.Sc.

The Hawaiʻi Supreme Court handed down an opinion by Justice Pollack on Tuesday, August 13, that held that article X, section 4 of the Hawaiʻi Constitution, the Hawaiian education provision requires the State to “to institute a program that is reasonably calculated to revive the Hawaiian language.” Chief Justice Recktenwald wrote a concurring opinion and Justice Nakayama wrote a concurring and dissenting opinion.

Article X, section 4 came into existence with the 1978 Constitutional Convention. Justice Pollack reviewed the history of  ‘ōlelo Hawai‘i and Hawaiian education in the 49-page opinion stating that Hawaiian language schools were widely available until the overthrow in 1893. Three years later, the Republic of Hawaiʻi enacted legislation mandating that only English be taught in schools, a law that was specifically intended to eradicate knowledge of ‘ōlelo Hawai‘i in future generations.

The facts of the case involve a Native Hawaiian mother of two daughters on Lāna‘i. The public schools on Lāna‘i do not offer an immersion program, but a K-12 immersion program is offered on five of the major Hawaiian Islands: O‘ahu, Maui, Hawai‘i Island, Moloka‘i, and Kaua‘i. Prior to moving to Lāna‘i the two daughters had been enrolled in the Kaiapuni Educational Program, an ‘ōlelo Hawai‘i immersion program at Pā‘ia Elementary School on the island of Maui. Both children were only able to read and write in ‘ōlelo Hawai‘i when they began attending Lāna‘i School. Adequate instruction in ‘ōlelo Hawai‘i was not provided partly because the Department of Education has been unable to attract qualified teachers to live on Lāna‘i.

Read the majority opinion in Clarabal ex rel. C.M.K.C. v. Department of Education, SCAP-16-0000475, on the Judiciary website at