Church school dispute boils over
By Eloise Aguiar
Advertiser Windward O'ahu Writer
By Eloise Aguiar
KAILUA — A long-simmering dispute between Redemption Academy and its governing church body boiled over yesterday, with the private Christian school given just hours to vacate the buildings housing its middle and high school programs.
Representatives from the sheriff's office went to campus yesterday morning and delivered a court order to leave the premises by 3 p.m., after which all locks were to be changed, barring the use of a 10-classroom building and office that church members and school parents had built.
The academy's preschool and grade school programs, which occupy an adjacent property, are unaffected by the eviction.
The school will remain open, both for the remainder of summer school as well as for the new year that begins in the fall, Dean Adrian Yuen said. For the short term, older students will be accommodated in the remaining facilities under the school's control.
A dispute over the property has been brewing for several years and the school knew the property owner, International Pentecostal Holiness Church, wanted them out. But school officials thought they were still negotiating.
"It was not only surprising, it was very hurtful," said Yuen, as about a dozen people hustled outside to strip classrooms of furniture and offices of records before the deadline.
The International Pentecostal Holiness Church did not return a request for comments, and neither did its Hawai'i attorney.
Next door at the elementary and preschool, teachers wiped away tears as truck after truck pulled out of the campus piled high with desks and chairs. Students who came to class yesterday were among those helping with the move.
The school has served the Kailua area for 30 years.
Yuen, who was hired in 1978 to open the school and is recuperating from kidney transplant and bladder surgery, said the problem started about two years ago when he decided to resign as a pastor and church member over policy issues that he said affected the way the governing body on the Mainland treated the Hawai'i churches.
Yuen said he headed the church in Hawai'i and was a member of its General Board of Administration, based in Oklahoma. He said he did not quit before trying to convince the board to give Hawai'i churches the same leeway given to Mainland churches, including the ability to train people to open churches in Pacific Rim countries.
"I was not anti-denomination," he said. "I was into empowering the various diversity of races here."
When the school opened, it had an agreement to stay on the property as long as it wanted, but after Yuen resigned, Mainland church members disputed that, Yuen said.
"I think this is retaliatory," he said, adding that the church has no plans for the property and the school was paying for its mortgage and property insurance.
The school is on two adjacent half-acre lots at 355 N. Kainalu Drive.
Under dispute is the middle and high school, but disposition of the elementary school is in litigation, he said.
The school once had an enrollment of 200, but the student population has dropped to about 90 since the dispute began, Yuen said. The school has eight teachers.
Classes are small and the school accepts a wide range of students, including those having trouble academically, said Lila Chun, who has taught there for 24 years.
"We've seen so many success stories," Chun said. "We have children with special needs that a lot of the private schools wouldn't take."
But the school also has gifted and talented students who have gone on to successful careers, Yuen said.
Jose Rodriguez, whose children and grandson attended the school, was troubled by the way the eviction was carried out.
"When Christian schools fight this way in a secular world, everybody loses," Rodriguez said. "It's not right. This is not a Christian way to do things.
"At least give them a warning. Everybody came to school today like it was a normal business day. Even the homeless get notice."
Reach Eloise Aguiar at firstname.lastname@example.org.