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Adventists Pray, Hire Attorney to Block Lynwood Schools' Bid to Oust Academy

June 28, 1987|RITA PYRILLIS | Times Staff Writer

LYNWOOD — While Alice Holiday's friends and neighbors are gearing up to save the Lynwood Adventist Academy--the school her grandchildren and great-grandchildren attended--Holiday, 90, says she is too old fight. But she is praying.

Holiday, who has lived across the street from the tree-lined campus since 1970, said she prays that the academy wins its fight with the Lynwood Unified School District, which intends to condemn the private Christian school to build a public high school.

If they lose, Holiday said: "I will have to move. It will destroy this neighborhood."

Several for sale signs already have gone up around the campus in the quiet neighborhood where much of the academy's faculty and students live. Threatened by the possibility of living near a public high school, Holiday said, a few of her neighbors are preparing to move.

Ready to Fight

But Joseph F. Dent Jr., principal of the Union Seventh-day Adventist (elementary) School and a nearby resident, said he and a group of Adventists are ready to fight to save the high school, elementary school and church that are part of the academy campus.

"Our entire neighborhood and the education of our children is being threatened," Dent said.

Earlier this month Dent and 20 friends formed STOPPS (Stop Taking Our Private Parochial Schools) to fight the district's condemnation proceedings against the school, which was built in 1936.

In December the school board voted to condemn the school buildings and athletic field of the 20-acre property to build a public high school. The district is also seeking to acquire 12 acres behind the athletic field that now houses two vacant grocery stores.

The issue for the private school, Dent said, is a constitutional one. And he and STOPPS have hired an attorney specializing in the First Amendment to argue this point.

Church-State Issue

"This is more than just an eminent domain issue, it's an issue of separation of church and state," Dent said. "This could happened to other private schools. The school district has already announced that it needs two more elementary schools and another junior high school. Does this mean they can snatch up what people see as a small, insignificant private school or a church?"

That's the argument used by Lee Boothby--general counsel for Americans United for Separation of Church and State in Washington, which is representing the Lynwood Seventh-day Adventist Church and Academy--when he spoke to the school board last week while more than 60 STOPPS members gathered in and around the board room to listen.

"This is a novel situation where a school district seeks to take property which is being used as part of a Christian education--an alternative to public education--to provide secular education," Boothby said. "If the district goes ahead with its plans, it could set legal precedent."

But district officials say the issue was settled last fall after public hearings were held, and they do not intend to change their position.

"We are still going after that property," said Karen A. Lichtenberg, a senior deputy county counsel representing the school district. "I don't think the constitutional issues raised will prevail."

Surprised at Opposition

Board members, who sat quietly while Boothby spoke, later expressed surprise over the show of opposition.

"It was a shock to me," said board member Thelma Calvin Williams, who withdrew her December, 1986, vote to condemn the property. "We thought they wanted to sell their property. I can't in good conscience go ahead with this now. We need to communicate with the Adventist community."

Williams and board members Helen Anderson and Willard Hawn Reed said they were unaware that the Adventists were opposed to the sale of the academy property. Board members Joe T. Battle and Richard Armstrong could not be reached for comment and Supt. LaVoneia C. Steele referred all questions to Lichtenberg.

"This is a little puzzling," Anderson said. "We went through public hearings on this issue some time ago, and we haven't heard a thing from them since. At the time we considered that site, their attitude was, 'Well, we'll deal with it.' "

William Wright, principal of Lynwood Academy, disagrees.

"The assumption seems to have been that the Adventists were ready to let this happen, but that is is not entirely true," he said. "It was clear that we couldn't fight eminent domain until now, when this constitutional issue was raised."

High School Needed

There is no argument among academy or school district officials that another public high school is badly needed in this predominantly black city of 54,000. Enrollment at Lynwood High School, which was built in 1931 to accommodate about 1,200 students, has reached almost 3,000.

But the Adventists who have settled around Lynwood because of the church and school say they are left with this question: Where will their children go to school if they are forced to relocate?

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