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A proposed charter school for trauma-sensitive students received final approval from the Utah Board of Education on Friday despite accusations that the school's predecessor created an environment that fostered the physical and sexual abuse of children.
The charter, to be named Eagle Summit Academy, will replace a private school that operates as a component of West Ridge Academy, a West Jordan residential treatment center for troubled youths.
As a public school, Eagle Summit will be funded with taxpayer dollars and will enroll West Ridge residents as well as other students in need of support for substance abuse, pornography addiction and other qualifiers.
The board's approval included caveats that public and private funding must be kept separate in the school's budgets, and that Eagle Summit and West Ridge may not share personnel.
"I know of no substantive reason to deny this charter," board member Stan Lockhart said.
The charter was approved in a 9-4 vote, with dissenting board members expressing concern over the hybrid structure of the charter school, and lingering allegations that West Ridge staff employ violence to discipline children.
During last month's board meeting, Eagle Summit's application was denied after former students testified that they and other students were abused while enrolled at West Ridge.
The board requested an investigation into those allegations, resulting in a 60-page report prepared by Utah State Office of Education staff that found no corroborating evidence, but did identify several lawsuits against West Ridge that were settled out of court.
A request for records from the West Jordan Police Department confirmed that a report was filed in January regarding allegations of abuse. But the report was not released to The Salt Lake Tribune as it is part of an ongoing investigation.
Board member Joel Wright said that without corroborating evidence, the allegations raised against West Ridge Academy "have melted like ice cream on a hot sidewalk."
"We're not going to chase every single allegation on every single vote," he said.
Board members who supported approving the charter argued that transitioning to a public school would result in greater oversight, which could prevent instances of abuse if they are occurring.
But Linda Hansen questioned who or what entity would provide that oversight, because charter schools operate independent of school districts and are governed by unelected boards.
"I can't live with that kind of risk to the kids," she said.