School board president compares Vanguard Academy to a ‘little kid’ who won’t take drugs

WEST VALLEY CITY, Utah — Representatives of the Utah State Charter School Board (SCSB) respond to a FOX 13 News investigation that revealed how a public charter school with ties to the polygamous Kingston group is defying state warnings by using Kingston family members. continue to be appointed to key leadership positions.

FOX 13 Investigating: Public School Run By Polygamous Kingston Group Continues Hiring Relatives

Vanguard Academy in West Valley City has been on alert status since June 2021.

The school has been facing spending questions since December 2020, when FOX 13 News disclosed the payments of hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars from the school to Kingston-affiliated companies.

FOX 13 Investigates: Public School With Polygamous Cult Ties Is 100% White

Public records show that the school’s spending on these businesses did not stop in 2021 or 2022.

The state assessment of Vanguard Academy found that all seven of the school’s board members had social or financial ties to the Kingston group, also known as Davis County Cooperative Society or “the Order.” The SCSB has determined that it is difficult for Vanguard Academy leaders to be impartial when voting on the school’s spending pattern.

As such, the SCSB has asked Vanguard Academy to appoint new school board members from outside the Kingston group to avoid conflicts of interest in the spending of public funds.

In response, Vanguard Academy expanded its board from seven to nine members. The school replaced only one of the original seven members. FOX 13 News found that at least two of the three new board members have significant ties to the Kingston group.

Upon learning that the school was continuing to hire Kingston relatives, SCSB chairman DeLaina Tonks compared the behavior of the Vanguard Academy to young children who refused to take their medications.

“When my kids were little and they had to take medicine, the hardest way is to hold you and give you the medicine,” Tonks said. “The easiest way is to open your mouth and I’ll give you the medicine. Either way, you must take the drug. You choose the way.”

“It seems to me, with the issue of conflict of interest, sometimes it feels like you’re taking the hard road. You bring in more people who have additional conflicts’, Tonks continues. “The easiest way would be to add board members who have no conflicts of interest, and make sure they are the majority of your board. That’s my perspective.”

No one responded to Tonks’ comments.

Daniel Jessop, one of the new Vanguard Academy board members, spoke briefly to FOX 13 News after the meeting.

“I’m not sure why they assume I have a conflict,” Jessop said. “I have no previous connection with Vanguard Academy, so I think that was an assumption.”

“Don’t you have two sisters who are in the Kingston group?” asked investigative reporter Adam Herbets of FOX 13 News.

“I have no comment,” Jessop said.

“Isn’t your sister (Kathleen Kingston) the assistant principal?” asked Herbets.

Jessop walked away.

Former and current members of the Kingston group have confirmed that Kathleen Kingston is also married to Vanguard Academy board member Scott Kingston.

“Of course that is a conflict of interest. That’s his brother-in-law,” said Shanell DeRieux, who left the Kingston group more than 10 years ago. “I remember when (Kathleen) got married…my mom let me know (they’re) from another polygamous group.”

DeRieux explained how the Kingston group teaches its members to take as much money from the government as possible, otherwise known as “bleeding the beast.”

In April, the SCSB debated whether it should begin removing and replacing Vanguard Academy board members. SCSB trustee Cynthia Phillips filed a motion recommending that Kent Johnson be removed from the board of the Vanguard Academy.

Johnson is a well-known member of the Kingston group. In addition to his responsibilities at Vanguard Academy, he also serves as an official spokesperson for the Davis County Cooperative Society.

Ultimately, Phillips decided to withdraw her motion, asking that the school “give 30 days to become compliant”.

“I hope this is a signal to the school,” Phillips said. “At least one board member willing to file a motion for removal (Johnson) if it is not taken seriously and corrected quickly because correcting is not difficult.”

As of May, the SCSB did not make any decisions to find the Vanguard Academy “compliant” as the school still has a warning status. There was no discussion to remove any of the Vanguard Academy board members.

Instead, Phillips’s tone changed. While discussing Vanguard Academy’s statutes, she repeatedly praised the school for its efforts.

“Personally, I’m very pleased,” Phillips said. “I am very pleased with the efforts Vanguard has made to increase the number of board members.”

After the meeting, Phillips declined the opportunity to clarify her comments

“I don’t talk to the media. I don’t speak to the public,” Phillips said. “You can listen back to the recording of the meeting for clarification.”

The SCSB has not taken any meaningful action since the school was given “alert” status about a year ago.

Due to scheduling issues, the SCSB is not expected to discuss the Vanguard Academy in June or July.

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