Fiji Mission Defends Controversial Decision to Close School
The Adventist denomination’s Fiji Mission has released a statement claiming that government refusal to appoint an Adventist principal and Adventist teachers at Vatuvonu Adventist College led to the decision to close the high school on Vanua Levu, Fiji’s second largest island.
Before the statement was released, the closure announcement had led to considerable controversy as it made national news and generated discussion among political leaders.
According to an April 4 report from Fiji’s FBC News, denominational leaders in the country met with the staff and management of the school on that day to inform them of the upcoming closure. Teachers were instructed to leave school after the current school term ended.
At the time, FBC News reported that Adventist students at the institution would be transferred to Navesau Adventist College in Tailevu, a province on Viti Levu, Fiji’s largest island. Students that are not members of the church were reportedly required to find schooling on their own.
The president of the denomination’s Fiji Mission, Pastor Luke Narabe, confirmed the closure but gave no further details to FBC News for the April 4 report. He directed questions to the mission’s secretary, Josateki Talemaitoga, who did not immediately respond to the news outlet as they published news of the closure on April 4.
On April 4, Fiji’s Minister for Education, Rosy Akbar, confirmed that she was aware of the closure announcement:
“Tomorrow 12.30pm I have a meeting scheduled with the General Secretary so hopefully things turn out positively because at the end of the day it’s the children’s education that is at stake and if we can come to an agreement and see that the children’s studies are not affected by any decision that the church makes.”
On April 11, FBC News also reported that there were allegations of misuse of funds at Vatuvonu Adventist College, which some parents of students claimed had led to a shortage of food. Former students, church members and the local community were reportedly helping to feed 48 boarding students after the boarding school allegedly ran out of food three weeks before FBC reported on the situation. The news outlet claimed that the denomination refused to comment on the misuse of funds allegations.
Below is the April 10 statement from the Fiji Mission that explains the denominational leadership’s rationale for closure:
Closure of Vatuvonu Adventist High School
The Executive Committee of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Fiji has made the difficult decision to close Vatuvonu Adventist High School at the end of Term 1, 2019. The Seventh-day Adventist Church deeply apologises for the impact caused to staff and students. The decision was made after the Ministry of Education refused to appoint an Adventist principal and Adventist teachers to the school. This was despite considerable efforts by the Church to resolve the issue over the past few months, including a number of appeals to the Ministry of Education.
The Church has committed to the reopening of the school when it is able to provide a full complement of Adventist teachers.
Belief in a loving God is fundamental to the Seventh-day Adventist education system and this belief permeates all aspects of school life. The values and beliefs of the Seventh-day Adventist Church are foundational and central to everything that happens within Adventist schools. It is essential, therefore, that teachers share the values, beliefs and moral principles of the Seventh-day Adventist Church so that they can contribute to the faith ethos of Adventist schools and be positive role models of those beliefs.
The appointment of non-Adventist teachers prevents the Church from maintaining and managing Vatuvonu Adventist High School as a place where the Church’s distinctive religious beliefs and practices are taught and upheld. It also has the effect of jeopardising the constitutional rights of the students in the school to seek and receive information, knowledge and ideas specifically relevant to the distinctive beliefs and practices of the Church.
The Fijian Constitution (Section 22) guarantees freedom of religion for individuals and for religious organisations conducting activities in Fiji. Further, Article 18 of the United Nations’ International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states that everyone should have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, and the freedom to manifest their religion in worship, observance, practice and teaching.
Therefore, the Seventh-day Adventist Church calls on the Government of Fiji to support the free exercise of religion by honouring their own country’s Constitution and their international obligations as set out by the UN. The Church also calls on the Government to review its policies and practices so that faith-based schools can appoint teachers and staff reflecting their religious beliefs. This will enable these schools to continue to contribute positively to the moral fabric of society through values-based education.
The Seventh-day Adventist Church operates one of the largest Protestant education systems in the world. In the South Pacific region alone, this accounts for in excess of 74,000 students and 3,500 teachers across all levels of education — primary, secondary and tertiary. Adventist schools take a wholistic approach to education — nurturing the physical, social, emotional and spiritual needs to facilitate the balanced development of every student. This balanced, values-based approach to education is highly regarded in the communities served by the Church.
Vatuvonu Adventist College was originally closed in 1984 but was then re-opened by the government in 2011. It enrolls 178 students, 48 of which are boarders.
According to the denomination’s Office of Archives, Statistics and Research, the Adventist Church in Fiji had 26,558 members and 166 churches as of June 30, 2018.