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Reporting from the St. George area focused on local government, public lands and the environment, indigenous issues and faith and spirituality.

Hundreds Gather In Support Of Threatened Southwest Utah Charter School

A seated audience listens intently to a presenter.
David Fuchs / KUER
Roughly 200 people attended a town hall at Saint George Academy on Monday night. The State Charter School Board will vote on Thursday whether to allow the school to stay open or to carry out the "Notice of Proposed Termination" it issued in October.

WASHINGTON, Utah — Lily Twitchell had been bullied so much in the Washington County School District that she had become “really good” at hiding its effects.
So when she enrolled at Saint George Academy in 2017, she didn’t expect it to be different — and she didn’t plan to stay.

“What I didn’t tell my parents, what I didn’t tell my friends is that I was giving myself three weeks to feel different, and then I was going to commit suicide,” she said, addressing a town hall held at the school on Monday night. “But because of Saint George Academy, I’m still alive, and I’m still here.”

Twitchell was one of roughly 200 people who had gathered at the event, which focused on what to expect on Thursday, when the State Charter School Board will vote on the academy’s appeal to keep its doors open.

The decision comes one month after the charter school board voted to issue the school a notice of proposed termination on the grounds that it had failed to meet the student count and funding goals outlined in its charter. 

The October vote blindsided school officials and community members alike. But as Neil Walter, board president of Saint George Academy, told the parents, students and faculty on Monday night, he expects a new plan to reduce expenses and enroll more students to persuade the charter school board to reverse course later this week. 

A man raises his hand in an "I love you" gesture while speaking from a podium, and the audience responds in kind.
Credit David Fuchs / KUER
Following the lead of a student speaker earlier in the night, State Rep. Travis Seegmiller closed the town hall by addressing the audience with a gesture meaning "I love you" in American Sign Language. The crowd responded in kind.

Also among the speakers at the town hall was State Rep. Travis Seegmiller. The Republican, who represents Washington and part of St. George, said he’s received hundreds of messages about the school and has been advocating to keep it open. 

I’m hearing uniformly that this is an amazing place that needs to be preserved for current students as well as generations to come,” he said, referring to the academy’s educational outcomes and inclusive culture. 

The school, which is in its third year, ranks among the top performers in Washington County and 90% of its graduates are admitted to college. It also has a bullying rate of 1.7%, which is less than a tenth of the state average, according to data from the Utah State Board of Education.

Michelle Boulter — who represents Washington and Iron Counties on the Utah State Board of Education, which oversees the Utah State Charter School Board — also attended the town hall. 

She said she was moved by the students’ speeches and would be advocating for the charter school board to reconsider its October decision.

“You’ve got a unique atmosphere here, and I hope that you’re not shut down,” she said.

David Fuchs is a Report for America corps member who reports from KUER's Southwest Bureau in St. George.

David is a reporter and producer working on Sent Away, an investigative podcast series from KUER, The Salt Lake Tribune and APM Reports.
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