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FOX 13 Investigates: Public school with ties to polygamous Kingston group looks to expand

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Posted at 2:21 AM, Oct 20, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-20 04:21:37-04

WEST VALLEY CITY, Utah — A public charter school in West Valley City with ties to the polygamous Kingston group has decided it will look into the possibility of expanding, despite looming questions related to the school's handling of millions of taxpayer dollars.

Vanguard Academy was placed on "warning" status in June, as some members of the Utah State Charter School Board question whether the institution attempts to operate as a private religious school while accepting public money.

FOX 13 Investigates: Utah public school with ties to polygamous sect placed on 'warning' status

In 2020, FOX 13 Investigates discovered Vanguard Academy has only enrolled one non-white student. Public records show the school has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on companies related to the Davis County Cooperative Society, also known as the Kingston group.

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During a public Vanguard Academy board meeting, Jonathan Bejarano asked the school to be more transparent in its procurement policies and its affiliation with the DCCS before considering whether to apply for an expansion.

"I feel like those issues are clearly not resolved," Bejarano said. "You also have other responsibilities, in your personal and professional life that may conflict."

Kent Johnson, who serves as chairman of the Vanguard Academy board, is also a known spokesperson for DCCS. He stated that the school continues to improve its spending policies, but otherwise declined to speak with FOX 13.

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Suzanne Owen, the principal of Vanguard Academy, said the school would like to expand for the purpose of separating younger students from older students. She described any ideas to expand as in its "infancy stages."

Last December, in an interview with FOX 13, Owen was not forthcoming about her involvement as a member of the Kingston group.

"Well, I've heard of them," Owen said.

"But you're not familiar with it?" asked FOX 13 investigative reporter Adam Herbets.

"No," Owen responded. "Well, like I say, this is a public charter school."

Since that interview, multiple past and present members of the Kingston family confirmed Owen is one of the "spiritual" wives to Hyrum Kingston, the leader's brother.

According to Utah State Charter School Board policy, it is impossible for a school to be considered for expansion unless it is in "good standing."