Vatuvonu Adventist High School case heads to the appeals court

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Vatuvonu Adventist High School.

The long-running case between the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Fiji and the Fijian Government over Vatuvonu Adventist High School returns to court today (February 14).

The case will be heard by three judges in the Fiji Court of Appeal after the government launched an appeal against the judgement handed down by the High Court of Fiji on November 22, 2019. In its judgement, the High Court rejected an application by the Ministry of Education to take over management and control of Vatuvonu Adventist High School. It also ordered that the appointment of a principal by the Ministry of Education must be someone “acceptable to the Church”.

Fiji Mission general secretary Pastor Joe Talemaitoga is asking church members around the South Pacific to pray for the students and staff at Vatuvonu, and for God’s continued guidance and intervention in this matter. In Fiji, a special day of prayer and fasting for the appeal hearing was held this past Sabbath (February 8).

“We are holding onto our faith in God. We have certainly seen His hand at work as this case has unfolded,” Pastor Talemaitoga said.

Pastor Joe Talemaitoga.

“While the legal deliberations continue, our main focus is on our Vatuvonu students and staff as they settle into the new school year. We are delighted that the school’s chaplaincy program and Bible classes have now resumed.”

Last month 140 World Changer Bibles were handed out to students. Of the 202 students, 29 are Adventists.

“This year we have commenced a second Sabbath worship service on campus especially for our boarding students,” Pastor Talemaitoga said. “The Vatuvonu multicultural English-speaking church features vibrant gospel music and inspiring speakers and is really making an impact on these young lives.

“The school is continuing to power on with the mission of the Church as a beacon of hope for the community.”

A decision by the appeals court is anticipated by April. It is seen as a landmark case with significant implications not just for Adventist schools, but for the entire education system in Fiji, which is largely run by faith-based organisations. Currently, the Fiji government operates a universal free education system where it pays staff wages and funds schools around the country. Under its Open Merit Recruitment Selection System the government chooses principals and teaching staff to fill vacancies at both government and faith-based schools.

The Vatuvonu Adventist High School principal and all 21 teaching staff are currently non-Adventist. The Church argues that it is essential that teachers share the values, beliefs and moral principles of the Church so that they can contribute to the faith ethos of Adventist schools and be positive role models of those beliefs.

The case began in April 2019 following the Church’s decision to privatise the school, which led to the government commencing legal proceedings against the Church in the High Court.