WEST VALLEY CITY, Utah – The Utah State Charter School Board follows a FOX 13 investigation into a public school linked to a polygamous religious group.
The findings of a staff audit left the board with the same serious questions that our reports have raised since December.
FOX 13 investigation: public school linked to polygamous sect is 100% white
West Valley City’s Vanguard Academy continues to receive millions of dollars in public funds, despite the fact that its students and teachers belong almost exclusively to the same polygamous religious organization known as the Kingston Group or the Davis County Cooperative Society.
Public schools are not permitted to discriminate on the basis of race or religion, thanks to the separation of church and state established in the United States Constitution.
Former Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff called the Kingston “an organized crime family” because of its members’ role in the Washakie Renewable Energy fraud case.
Public school linked to polygamous sect investigated by Charter School Board
The Southern Poverty Law Center has called the Kingston Group a hate group since 2017.
FOX 13 was the first news organization to reveal the results of extensive research into Vanguard Academy’s spending and admissions policies.
According to an audit published by the Utah State Charter School Board, staff are assigning “several complaints and media inquiries” for their review of Vanguard Academy’s procurement policies.
Data analyst Brooke Anderson was the first to notice an almost 100% white student body in public school.
His concerns quickly shifted from issues of segregation to religious discrimination and potential fraud.
“There are a lot of things that need to be studied,” Anderson acknowledged. “I hope we will stop paying them millions of dollars a year to run a charter school for whites only, for children of their own cult.”
When Vanguard Academy applied for its charter in 2014, executives promised a target of 20% minority enrollment.
The school is below 20% of this target.
The director of Vanguard Academy told me that the school will prioritize siblings, not minorities, in future admission lotteries. pic.twitter.com/dEqGelz6PF
– Adam Herbets (@AdamHerbets) December 11, 2020
While the audit did not address the racial disparity of Vanguard Academy, staff at the Utah Charter School Board did study the school’s spending habits.
He listed eleven findings that are “unresolved”, due to responses from Vanguard Academy that were “not reasonable or adequate.”
Among the findings, the audit confirms the FOX 13 report that Vanguard Academy paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to affiliated companies in Kingston.
“Seven of the twenty vendors tested … appear to have had previous personal relationships with Vanguard Academy because these business owners all share the same last name,” the audit said. “A reasonable person would perceive that there was some form of favoritism or bias which influenced the objectivity of Vanguard Academy in the selection of these suppliers.”
In an interview with FOX 13 last December, principal Suzanne Owen insisted that the school’s expenses were above the board.
“We are doing business with whoever has the business that will meet our needs,” said Owen. “It is not part of the process that they are affiliated with another religion.”
According to the audit, the Vanguard Academy website states that “you must be a member of the LDCC to be able to use the gymnasium … [Utah State Charter School Board] staff don’t know what ACAD means. “
LDCC stands for Latter-day Church of Christ, the corporate name of the Church of the Kingston Group.
FOX 13 asked Owen in December if she had heard of the Latter-day Church of Christ or the Kingston group.
“Well, I heard about it,” Owen said.
“But aren’t you familiar with that?” asked FOX 13 investigative reporter Adam Herbets.
“No,” Owen replied. “Well, like I said, it’s a charter public school.”
FOX 13 has since learned that Owen’s response was less than honest.
Several past and present members of the Kingston family have confirmed that Owen is one of Hyrum Kingston’s “spiritual” wives.
“It is a well-known fact that Suzanne [Owen] is married to Hyrum Kingston, who is the leader’s brother, “former member Amanda Rae said.” It was so hard for me not to laugh [when I saw that]. “
Last month, Vanguard Academy principal Suzanne Owen told me that she had only “heard of” the Kingston group and that the public school had “no connection to polygamy”.
Several past and present members of the group have since reached out to say that she is in fact one of Hyrum Kingston’s wives pic.twitter.com/4yJY6zxnMi
– Adam Herbets (@AdamHerbets) January 15, 2021
” He told me that [Owen] is very willing to lie, and she is willing to lie on camera, ”Anderson said. “This should apply to all members of the charter school board. “
The Vanguard Academy school is owned by Ensign Learning Center, a nonprofit organization that is the subject of a separate IRS complaint.
Ensign Learning Center is also run by the Kingston family.
The audit lists several “possible resolutions” or “recommendations” in accordance with its findings, many of which, Anderson said, are not stringent enough.
“The recommendations call for [Vanguard Academy] to do their paperwork better, and that’s not the problem, ”Anderson said. “Paperwork is not the root cause. The root cause is that we clearly have a school run by a local cult, the Kingstons. “
Anderson said she was very concerned that the Utah State Charter School Board could turn a blind eye to the FOX 13 reports, as well as publicly available articles detailing the inner workings of the polygamous sect. .
“The Vanguard Academy should lose its charter. It should not function as a charter school. It should not receive taxpayer funding,” she said. “With all of this public information, I hope this will be taken into account, where the charter school board doesn’t just put blinders on.”
On Thursday, Vanguard Academy staff will have another opportunity to provide explanations at a public meeting of the Utah Charter School Board.
Chief Executive Officer Jennifer Lambert said the board would then have the opportunity to take whatever action it deems appropriate.
“It is assumed that they practice polygamy,” Lambert said. “There is no law that requires a school to have representative demographics, however, they are not allowed to choose students based on race or religion… Whenever we see a lack of diversity, that worries us. The question is what legal tools do we have to answer it? “
“To me, that will tell me if we can govern our charter schools in a reasonable way,” Anderson said. “This [school] is not for your private interests. It is not for your personal gain. It is not just for your own children. It’s a public resource … It’s the worst case for a charter school I can think of. “
The full audit can be read online here.