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Utah changes its mind, public school run by polygamous Kingston group allowed to keep its board

Vanguard Academy remains on "probation" and could be shut down as early as November
Posted at 2:08 PM, Sep 14, 2022
and last updated 2022-09-14 23:53:09-04

WEST VALLEY CITY, Utah — The Utah State Charter School Board (SCSB) has changed its mind as the state is now allowing Vanguard Academy, a public school run by the polygamous Kingston group, to keep its board.

FOX 13 News discovered Vanguard Academy paid millions of taxpayer dollars to Kingston-affiliated businesses in 2020. The state conducted its own investigation in 2021, confirming conflicts of interest related to the school's spending.

The latest vote is a complete 180 from a decision made by the SCSB in August to replace Vanguard Academy's board with nine members chosen by the state.

The school remains on "probation," which means the state will decide whether Vanguard Academy must be shut down after November 22.

"The reality is, this does not eliminate any of the oversight or any of what's going to happen in the future," said Charter School Board Executive Director Jennifer Lambert. "Our attempt to put in new board members was to give Vanguard Academy a tool to help them resolve the deficiencies. The deficiencies haven't gone away. We've just withdrawn that tool because it was obvious Vanguard Academy would not make use of that tool."

The board also voted to implement a new "mentor" for the existing board at a later date.

Lambert said it is now up to Vanguard Academy and its soon-to-be appointed advisors to make meaningful changes on their own to avoid shutdown.

"But your position is, they're never going to have a quorum of non-conflicted board members unless they make changes to the board," asked FOX 13 News investigative reporter Adam Herbets.

"Correct," Lambert said. "And if they are using vendors that are not in the best interests of the school, that would still continue to be a problem... It isn't the vendors themselves. It isn't the board members themselves. It's the relationship between the two."

Sen. Kathleen Riebe, D-Cottonwood Heights, has repeatedly stated she viewed replacing Vanguard Academy's board as a weak move.

She said the law is clear, the school should have been shut down months ago — if not last year.

"This is a lot of money that we're wasting," Riebe said. "You have a lot of nepotism, and you have a lot of people that are related... We’re not asking that school to do anything above and beyond. They're not following the same rules as every school district in the state. They think that they don't have to follow the rules."

Riebe said she was particularly disappointed to see the high amount of money being spent on family businesses rather than on the instruction of students.

"Charter schools are a very odd entity because (the board is) picked by their friends... We’ve asked them to fix it and rectify it and they have refused," Riebe said. "They’ve been warned. They’ve been told. They’ve been asked. They’ve been given extra resources to fix their problems. If they’re not going to put themselves back in order, they should be closed."

Vanguard Academy challenged the board's decision to replace the board and had a court date scheduled in October to argue the merits of the case. In light of the board's decision, the hearing is now moot.

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