After a productive 2021-2022 school year and a quiet summer, the SCSB quickly escalated their involvement in Vanguard Academy charter school to unprecedented levels on August 22, 2022. The SCSB placed the high performing school on probation and voted to remove all 9 of Vanguard’s board members based on recommendations from SCSB Executive Director Jennifer Lambert.
The SCSB decision sparked backlash and broad condemnation from the community, while triggering a number of court actions that ultimately led to a partial reversal of the decision just 17 days later.
In the aftermath many were left wondering, what happened behind the scenes to cause such a rapid escalation? New information reveals a disturbing back story of collusion and coordination between Jennifer Lambert and a private, third-party religious organization whose stated goal is to target young people from plural families to “reverse that curse” and ‘call them to Christ’.
“It was like a switch flipped in [Jennifer Lambert]. Suddenly, she had a vendetta against [the school],” stated one staff member on condition of anonymity.
Emails and text messages obtained by DCCSOCIETY.ORG show that on July 21st, 2022, Jennifer Lambert and her assistant Liz Bunker began communicating with Tonia Tewell, a well-known anti-plural family activist. Tewell also runs a “Mormon rescue” Baptist ministry called Holding Out Help, which she founded in 2009. Tewell has a history of being a religious activist whose Baptist background leads her to believe she must “engage [the plural] community and reverse that curse.” And that she is “called to in Christ” to do so.
“Tewell is very manipulative,” said one DCCS member, “she’s very skilled at making you feel good on one hand, while pushing ulterior motives on the other.”
Text and email exchanges between Lambert, Bunker and Tewell
In their first emails, Tewell closes her letters to Bunker with phrases like “You are Brave!”, while asking for prayers for her cause. In one message, Tewell infers she is in danger and requires security for her efforts to “deter the Kingstons,” painting a dire picture of distress for herself in an apparent attempt to win sympathy from Lambert and Bunker.
Bunker refers to a financial grant the two had discussed that Tewell is working on for gaining additional clients / converts. Bunker also requests that Tewell produce “info on affiliated [DCCS] businesses and org charts” in an apparent attempt to bolster their discriminatory arguments against the DCCS.
At their first in-person meeting, Tewell produces one of her clients, an alleged abuse victim and 29-year-old mother of 6 to talk about Vanguard and the DCCS. The woman had never attended Vanguard.
Rather than address the allegations by talking to school officials, on August 8, Bunker and Lambert request a new meeting with Tonia Tewell “…hoping to find out more about the day-to-day happenings at the school.” The emails suggest Bunker discussed official Vanguard business with Tewell when she states, “we have a lot to talk to our board about in our meeting tomorrow,” referring to the August 11 SCSB board meeting later that week.
Emails show a Zoom meeting took place on August 16 between Bunker, Lambert, Tewell and another unnamed “client” of Holding Out Help to discuss Vanguard and DCCS topics. After the meeting, Tewell sends Lambert a group of email attachments containing stolen personal data including a religious women’s class roll, and what appears to be personal questions about men’s qualifications to serve, similar to what is required for a mainstream LDS temple recommend. Clearly, an illegal violation of privacy.
On the morning of August 22, before the SCSB board meeting began, Tonia Tewell sent an email addressed to Jennifer & Liz offering “someone to run Vanguard who has left a polygamous culture.” The message suggests that Lambert and Bunker had already discussed the outcome of the meeting beforehand with a hostile private third party. Later that day, Lambert delivered her recommendations to remove Vanguard’s board and potentially the director of the school. Vanguard’s administration report they were not given notice of the decision before the meeting.
After the SCSB meeting, Tewell continues to bolster Lambert’s ego in an email stating, “I can not begin to thank you enough for your bravery today. Most will not stand up to the Kingstons.”
In the following weeks, it appears Tewell continues to play an active role in influencing SCSB Director Lambert, who in turn influenced the SCSB leading up to the first court hearing in the aftermath of August 22.
On September 7, Judge Laura Scott heard the case for a temporary restraining order (TRO) filed by Vanguard against the SCSB on September 7. Lambert and Tewell exchange texts as they both livestream the hearing. Lambert, in her official capacity as an SCSB employee, discusses background details of the case with Tewell saying, “I keep wishing I could respond to some of the claims being made by Vanguard.” After the TRO was decided in Vanguard’s favor, Tewell attempts to console Lambert, who then responds, “I have to say after days like today. It is nice to know we aren’t alone.”
In text messages to Lambert, Tewell details a civil lawsuit she expects to be filed by TV Producer/ Lawyer Roger Hoole, as well as a documentary drama they are filming together. Tewell claims she has privileged information saying, “Due to confidentiality I can’t give you pla[i]ntiffs names.” Lambert pushes Tewell to give more information, to which Tewell responds, “…I’m strictly forbidden because it can hurt the case [to be talking to Jennifer]. Can you ask Adam Herbets to send[?]”
Later in the exchange Tewell gives up the names saying, “I’m reluctantly sharing a few names. These are the pla[i]ntiffs:.” This move appears to win Lambert’s trust who then discloses private details about a Vanguard board member and their private residence to Tewell. Lambert again discusses details only known to her through her official state capacity as SCSB Executive Director with Tewell.
Further texts to Lambert suggest Tewell breeched confidentiality yet again by describing personal details of a domestic dispute and potential abuse of another of her clients from the civil case. Tewell shares details and personal photos of the client with Lambert in order to further her narrative. It is not clear how the client is relevant to Vanguard.
Collusion, Coordination and Influence of Religious Organizations on the SCSB
The text and email exchanges between SCSB Executive Director Jennifer Lambert clearly suggest an illegal collusion and coordination of a state agency to further the means and purpose of a non-public religious entity. Lambert appears to do so to further her own personal non-public agenda.
Tonia Tewell is a known religious actor who has singled out Vanguard Academy charter school because some of the students belong to a religious tradition contrary to her own. Tewell does so under the guise of being a victims advocate, but regularly breeches confidentiality requirements by disclosing non-relevant personal details to further her own personal agenda.
Lambert’s exchanges with Tewell frequently violate statute without due process to address rumors and concerns brought to her by a non-public entity. It appears Lambert is more willing to follow rumors from a hostile, religious third party than to go straight to the source. Lambert's actions constitute numerous violations of the U.S. Constitution.
Lambert previously stated that the issues she and the SCSB have with Vanguard are not about religion, yet she has made religion the primary influence in her decision making.
Since Lambert’s appointment at the SCSB in 2016, the Board has followed her suggestions over 95% of the time. This suggests a disturbing level of influence not only being exerted on Lambert, but the entire Utah State Charter School Board. Lambert’s actions appear to make her unfit to make decisions about children.
Continued Pattern of Hatred and Discrimination
State actors in Utah have been pushing individuals in the plural community to second-class status for over 90 years. They do this by criminalizing their families and eliminating their ability to be educated, eliminating their ability to work, to buy homes, etc. They do it by legalizing discrimination and abuse of plural families and their children.
Plural families have a right to an education like every other citizen and to be educated in a setting free from abuse and the vindictive disdain displayed by Jennifer Lambert and Tonia Tewell.
When children from other plural traditions were barred from being educated in Southern Utah, it created widespread harm for the students as they grew to adulthood. 20 years later, many of them suffer with great dependency and an inability to be productive in society. For the DCCS, it must be different!
We will not back down when it comes to educating our children. After 5 generations of abuse, we are not going to back down!
Read more testimonials of DCCS students in public schools here
A History of Discrimination against Plural Families in Education
After 90 years of abuse, the SCSB’s message? “Take your medicine.”
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