Resolution To Rename School Fails In Committee

Students, teachers, and alumni support and oppose the resolution


By Lisa Kaneshiro

The name and statue of President William McKinley has been a point of contention in the community.

Shane Kaneshiro


A resolution to urge the Board of Education and the Superintendent to rename McKinley High School to Honolulu High School and to remove the statue of President William McKinley was deferred by the State House Education committee on March 18.

After over an hour of verbal testimonies via Zoom between both supporters and opponents, Representative Jeanne Kapela, vice chair of the committee, said, “With a very heavy and sad heart, we have to defer this measure today.”

Kapela, who was one of the sponsors of the resolution, said, “While I do understand the reluctance of McKinley alumni to change the name of their alma mater, this issue is at its heart about advancing racial equity. Over the last few years, we have watched our nation engage in a reckoning with its troubled racial history, and Hawaii is no different.”

Student Body President Tracee Nguyen testified in opposition to the resolution. In the hearing, Nguyen said she believes the name and statue should remain to learn what happened during that period of time.

“I feel like renaming the school and bringing down the statue will give our generation the wrong message that anything we oppose or disagree with we should erase and cancel,” Nguyen said.

The Second Vice President of the Student Body Government, Iwalani Campbell testified in support of the resolution.

“Growing up immersed in Hawaiian culture and in Hawaii, it defies my comprehension on why people would fight for a name that has disenfranchised the native Hawaiian population. We cannot fix the past but we can change the future, and pride in tradition does not stem from just the name ‘McKinley,’ it stems from McKinley High School being an overall great school,” Campbell said.

General Robert Lee, an alumnus and Hall of Honor inductee, testified in opposition to the change of the name of McKinley.

“We should leave the name the same because the students … will learn critical thinking so they can understand the causes and the outcomes of that era, instead of running away from the problem by changing the name,” he said.

Alumna Cat Orlans support the resolution.

In the virtual Zoom hearing, she said, “A name change … (is) not going to take away those traditions we can still carry on.”

She told the committee that she got a geographic exception for all four years of high school and commuted daily from Nanakuli, where she lived on Hawaiian homestead land.

“My first days of freshman year were, of course, weirded out by the oval and the statue tradition that seemed to glorify the man who illegally threw the queen of my ancestors’ kingdom.”

She said that she, like everyone else, adapted to the tradition to stay off the oval.

 “I’m forever grateful for my high school ohana,” she said.  “My education allowed me to go to UH at Manoa and finally learn and understand the true history of our native Hawaiian people and the history of this place, not the colonizer history that was taught during my time at the Department of Education in public school.”

Hawaii State Teacher Association’s union lobbyist and a native Hawaiian teacher at McKinley, Laverne Moore testified in support of the resolution.

I grew up under President McKinley’s indoctrination of Hawaiian students and a movement that obliviated native Hawaiian identity in favor of American patriotism,” she said. “The devastating loss of native Hawaiian Identity culture and language has yet to be recovered. Those who did not live through this area era as a native Hawaiian may never fully understand the far-reaching damage and trauma colonization has on its people. It is our kuleana to restore pono.”

April Nakamura, McKinley’s Student Activities Coordinator, opposes the resolution and told the committee there would have been more people testifying in opposition if the community had had more advanced notice. She said the people who support the resolution were well prepared.

Representative Sylvia Luke, whose Finance committee, would have heard the resolution if it had passed the Education committee, echoed Nakamura’s concern.

“We were kind of surprised that more alumni and students from McKinley didn’t come out,” she said, “But I think part of it is because they didn’t know and they only heard about it after the fact from the newspaper.”

In her testimony, HSTA member Holly Honbo criticized the union.

“The HSTA board of directors decided to enter into this matter after being solicited by an organization outside of HSTA union,” she said. “None of our 12,000+ members were contacted or polled by our union leaders. McKinley High School teachers were not contacted or notified by HSTA union representatives.

The day after the resolution was deferred in the education committee hearing, Representative Kapela sent a memo to the Hawaii Department of Education asking them to immediately initiate proceedings to change the name of McKinley High School and remove the statue of President McKinley from school grounds.

In Kapela’s memo, she said the school name and statue are no different than the confederate monuments that have been dismantled on the continental U.S. to pave a path toward a more egalitarian future.

“We need to engage in a much-needed discussion about racial justice and the historical trauma endured by Hawai’i’s indigenous people. We need to build learning centers that reflect our goal of not only understanding, but responding to, historical trauma and preventing it from being repeated on our shores,” she said. “Returning McKinley High School to its former name and removing the statue that sullies its grounds would begin to heal the wounds that the Hawaiian people have been suffering for centuries.”

Former state senator, alumna and Hall of Honor inductee, Suzanne Chun-Oakland, opposes the resolution. She said similarly-minded community members can submit a letter to the superintendent and the Board of Education, asking them to understand the cultural values and all that is intrinsic with McKinley High School and not to consider Kapela’s plea.

Representative Luke said the people who are pushing for this name change will keep trying.

“Be ready and do some research in the meantime,” she said to those who oppose any change. “Something like this could come back year after year. Not knowing how to get more involved in the legislative process, it will be an opportunity lost.”

By Shane