FOX 13 Investigates: Public school with ties to polygamous sect is 100% white

Fox News 13, Utah/December 10, 2020

By: Adam Herbets and Nate Carlisle

West Valley City, Utah — Brooke Anderson is a data analyst who noticed something unusual about the student body at Vanguard Academy.

“It stuck out like a sore thumb," Anderson said. “Vanguard Academy has had millions of dollars in funding to run a school of entirely white students in West Valley City, and I wonder why that is.”

Public data shows Vanguard Academy, a public charter school in West Valley City, has 463 students. Over the last five years, there has been only one enrolled student who is not white.

"That is still zero percent of their student body... There was a decision somewhere. That's not an accident," Anderson said. "The world is a wonderful place that is far more diverse than they’re being allowed to see."

When asked by FOX 13 whether there’s any effort at Vanguard Academy to increase minority enrollment, principal Suzanne Owen, replied: “There’s not an effort to not.”

“I think it would be nice” to increase minority enrollment, she added, “yeah.”

According to the school's application for charter school status in 2014, Vanguard Academy set a goal for 20 percent minority enrollment.

Owens said, once the school is allowed to expand, Vanguard Academy will prioritize the siblings of current students instead of minorities.

Records show Vanguard Academy has ties to the polygamous sect known as the Kingston Group, also known as the Davis County Cooperative Society and the Order.

Shanell DeRieux from the television show “Escaping Polygamy” grew up in the sect.

DeRieux didn’t go to Vanguard Academy, but she attended her sister’s graduation there earlier this year.

“I recognized a lot of the names they called in the graduation,” DeRieux said.

“I saw Paul Kingston, the prophet – alleged – of the order. I saw John Daniel Kingston, my biological father.”

The Southern Poverty Law Center has called the Kingston Group a hate group.

“I was taught the people of other colors, they’re not pure and they’re dirty,” DeRieux said.

Owen claimed she has heard of the Kingston Group, but is not familiar with them: “No. Like I say, this is a public charter school.”
“This school does not have ties to polygamy,” she added. "We don’t segregate. We don’t discriminate."

Vanguard Academy’s expense reports show it has paid money to businesses with ties to the Kingston Group. In two examples from 2019, it paid $45,826 to AAA Security and $9,633 to Fidelity Funding.

Both companies have come up in the half-billion dollar Washakie Renewable Energy fraud.

Washakie executives Jacob and Isaiah Kingston have admitted to laundering money through AAA Security and Fidelity. The two brothers are awaiting sentencing on charges related to the fraud.

Executives with AAA Security and Fidelity Funding were not charged with any crimes, nor has Vanguard Academy been linked to the Washakie scheme.

“We do business with whoever has the business that will fulfill our needs,” Owen said. “Whether they’re affiliated with any kind of other religion isn’t part of the process.”

Owen insisted she doesn’t know the religious composition of her students or of students who have been passed over for admittance.

“It’s mostly white applicants because that’s who is here,” Owen said.

The U.S. Census Bureau says about two-thirds of West Valley City’s 135,000 residents are white.

“It’s a very diverse town,” said Rep. Elizabeth Weight, D-West Valley City. “It’s a very diverse district.”

Weight is concerned about the student composition at Vanguard Academy and what it says about governance of charter schools. She’s drafting legislation to give the Utah State Charter School Board more oversight authority.

“That school is getting taxpayer dollars with the expectation there will be transparency and accountability,” Weight said. "How in the world does this happen?"

Jennifer Lambert, executive director of the Utah State Charter School Board, said there is no government oversight into the school's lottery process to admit students.

"It's assumed that they do practice polygamy," Lambert said. "There is no law that requires a school to have representative demographics, however they’re not allowed to pick and choose students based on race or religion... Any time we see lack of diversity, it causes us concern. The question is what legal tools do we have to respond to that?"

Lambert described the lottery admittance process as being run on the "honor system."

The Utah State Charter School Board is expected to discuss Vanguard Academy’s charter at a public meeting in January.

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