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Legislator wants ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi to be taught at every grade level across the state

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Sabrina Bodon
/
HPR
FILE - Cari Yamafuji's first-grade classroom at Abraham Lincoln Elementary on Oʻahu.

State Rep. Diamond Garcia, like many Native Hawaiians of his generation, grew up hearing stories of his kūpuna being punished for speaking ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi in school.

"The Hawaiians in my grandparents' generation were literally... speaking Hawaiian was a no-no. Like you just couldn’t. And they were spanked for it. I mean, it was really bad," Garcia said.

The Hawaiian language was banned from use in state schools for 90 years following the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom in 1893.

Efforts to revitalize the language led to ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi being recognized as an official state language in 1978, along with English.

"If (Hawaiian language is) an official language, why aren’t our kids learning it?" Garcia asked. "English is official and it's required in all grade levels K through 12 in every single school. If Hawaiian is an official state language, it should be a required course just as English is."

House Bill 157 would require the teaching of ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi for public school students grades K through 12. The proposal would appropriate $5 million to create ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi curriculum and hire teachers to implement the program.

The state Department of Education said in a statement they strongly support expanding ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi in public schools. The DOE currently offers it as a language course at 32 of its 64 high schools and Hawaiian language immersion is an option at 22 of its schools statewide.

DOE officials say they would need to look at their ability to teach ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi at every grade level in all schools because qualified Hawaiian language teachers are already a high-need area with recruitment challenges.

The bill, introduced by Garcia, requests that $5 million or more be appropriated from the state's general revenues to implement this for the 2023 and 2024 school years.

After passing its first reading on Jan. 19, the bill now moves forward.

Kuʻuwehi Hiraishi is a general assignment reporter at Hawaiʻi Public Radio. Her commitment to her Native Hawaiian community and her fluency in ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi has led her to build a de facto ʻōiwi beat at the news station. Send your story ideas to her at khiraishi@hawaiipublicradio.org.
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