The West Valley City public charter school is under investigation by The Utah State Charter School Board for its lack of diversity and spending irregularities.
FOX 13 News reported that Vanguard Academy has ties to the Kingston group, a known polygamous sect of Mormonism in Utah. Within the past five years, Vanguard Academy has enrolled only one non-white student. The school also spent hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars on companies related to the Kingston family, according to public records.
The Kingston group is one of Utah's only hate groups, declared such by the Southern Poverty Law Center in 2017.
Brooke Anderson is a data analyst who noticed something unusual about the student body at Vanguard Academy. At a board meeting, Brooke asked, "All these college credits earned by Vanguard Academy students, how will they be put to use? To benefit the community or to further the ends of extremists?" Anderson further adds, "charter schools are meant to open the door to innovation. It seems that the open door has also been used by extremists to create schools in their own image, for their own profit."
Ensign Learning Center owns Vanguard Academy's schoolhouse, a non-profit that is currently facing an IRS complaint. The Kingston family also runs Ensign Learning Center.
"Vanguard has never, and will never, use discrimination or bias to describe enrollment or single out our students based on race, religion, family surname, or any other association," said Suzanne Owen, the Vanguard Academy principal. "Everyone that has submitted an application for enrollment has been accepted."
In an interview with FOX 13 in December, Owen previously said she had only "heard of" the Kingston group.
"But you're not familiar with it?" FOX 13 investigative reporter Adam Herbets asked.
Despite the school's obvious ties to the polygamist sect, the principal of Vanguard Academy states she has only "heard of" the Kingston group.
"But you're not familiar with it?"
"No. Like I said, this is a public charter school." pic.twitter.com/OUDnNxtWwi
— Adam Herbets (@AdamHerbets) December 11, 2020
"No. Like I say, this is a public charter school," Owen responded. "We do business with whoever has the business that will fulfill our needs," she told FOX 13. "Whether they're affiliated with any kind of other religion isn't part of the process."
Multiple past and present members of the Kingston group and family members say that Owen is one of the "spiritual" wives to Hyrum Kingston, the Ensign Learning Center's former principal.
"It's a spiritual wedding, and it's just as good in God's eyes," said a former member of the group, Amanda Rae. "It was so hard for me not to laugh. It's a well-known fact that Suzanne is married to Hyrum Kingston, which is the leader's brother... I think if Suzanne is going to lie about even being affiliated with the Kingstons, then that just discredits everything else that she said."
"We are in the process of doing a thorough review of the school's procurement process and policies," stated Stewart Okobia, the financial compliance manager for the Utah State Charter School Board. "When completed, we feel like we will be able to... see if anything was violated or against a law or any board rules."
Although members of the Utah State Charter School Board did not comment on the investigation, they expressed the importance of diversity and inclusion in public schools.
"Why don't we have a student body that more or less reflects that? Plus or minus a certain percent?" asked one board member, Cynthia Phillips.