NewsFox 13 Investigates


How secretive meetings led to the firing of an entire school board with ties to polygamy

Part three of our "FOX 13 Investigates: Administrators Expelled" series
Posted at 11:15 PM, Aug 24, 2022
and last updated 2022-08-25 01:15:56-04

This story is part three of a three-part series, FOX 13 Investigates: Administrators Expelled

WEST VALLEY CITY, Utah — Public schools are supposed to have public meetings. Hopefully that's not breaking news.

For nearly two years, FOX 13 News has been investigating Vanguard Academy's social and financial ties to the polygamous Kingston group, revealing how the school appointed family members to authorize the spending of hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars on Kingston-affiliated businesses.

A large portion of our reporting involves examining public documents, attending public meetings, and asking questions of public officials.

Sometimes the government is less than transparent.

At public meetings, Vanguard Academy board members are supposed to make critical decisions that affect students and school spending.

According to the Utah State Charter School Board, transparency issues prompted the state to remove the entire Vanguard Academy board on Monday. The action was unprecedented.

"Hopefully it forces them to be more transparent," said SCSB Executive Director Jennifer Lambert. "Is the board adequately overseeing the school? If they are, it's not being done transparently... We've already been burned once by Vanguard Academy."

The state has received multiple complaints from the public about Vanguard Academy's violations of the Open and Public Meetings Act.

For example, the SCSB found the school held an "emergency meeting" on February 25, 2022, less than 24 hours after a previous board meeting.

They say...

  • the meeting was not publicly noticed 24-hours in advance, or at all, for members of the public to attend.
  • the meeting was not an emergency, not urgent, and not due to an unforeseen circumstance.

  • Vanguard Academy failed to record the meeting as required by state law, except for the first two minutes.

  • documents from the meeting show inconsistencies as to whether the meeting actually took place in February.
    • "In audio, board chair welcomes the board and states that it is Tuesday and then quickly corrects stating that it is Friday the 25th... Document properties for meeting minutes say: Created: 4/1/22, 1:45:31 PM."

During this meeting, Vanguard Academy voted to not renew the contract of their previous director Suzanne Owen.

FOX 13 News caught Owen withholding information about her involvement with the Kingston group in 2020.

Multiple past and present members of the family confirmed Owen is one of the plural wives to Hyrum Kingston, the brother of prophet Paul Kingston.

"I don't know how you would do the public's business in secret, " said school data analyst Brooke Anderson. "The public's business is not secret."

Prior to the removal of its board, Vanguard Academy stated it was willing to attend additional training to learn how to follow Utah law.

"I noticed that they kept saying, 'Well, we didn’t know. We didn’t know. We’re doing our best. We just didn’t know how to do this.'" Anderson said. "How long has this school been open? Seven years."

Representatives with Vanguard Academy declined to speak with FOX 13 News at a public meeting in October 2021.

When we attempted to attend another meeting in April 2022, all we found was the school's new director, Charles Reynolds, sitting in his office behind a laptop.

Everyone else was on online, most of them with their cameras off.

In some cases, multiple voices came from the same computer.

According to the Open and Public Meetings Act, you cannot hold a public meeting without the majority of the board present, known as a quorum.

Vanguard Academy's own bylaws state a quorum shall be 2/3 of the board.

FOX 13 News noticed the absence of a quorum and asked why they were meeting anyway.

"Sorry for the confusion," wrote FOX 13 News investigative reporter Adam Herbets. "Who are the individuals who make up the quorum?"

On Monday, this is how Vanguard Academy Treasurer Grace Mitchell described our question.

"I believe it was Adam Herbets, one of the media people that have been harassing Vanguard, and he kept interrupting that meeting saying, 'Is there a quorum present?'" Mitchell described.

Mitchell is one of the wives to Paul Kingston, the group's prophet.

"I do not agree with all of the representations Vanguard was making in that instance," Lambert said.

The SCSB confirmed the meeting was in violation of the Open and Public Meetings Act due to a lack of a quorum.

"The fact that you get asked questions during a public meeting? That wouldn't seem to be harassment," Anderson said. "Answering those questions is the job. It's a big part of the job."

FOX 13 News has never seen a parent or student ask questions of their school leaders at a public meeting.

Anderson said she believes that's likely due to the religious nature of the group.

"Isn't it concerning that there's no one? How is it so silent?" Anderson said. "The question is, can it function as a public school? Honestly, I am doubtful given how embedded and how reluctant everyone in the group has seemed to work with and collaborate with anyone outside the group."

The new board members are likely to be chosen by the state within the next few weeks and confirmed in September.

The SCSB will consider whether to shut down Vanguard Academy in three months.

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