ST. GEORGE (ABC News) – Red Rock Canyon School, a psychiatric youth treatment facility in St. George, is closing its doors within 60 days after facing intense scrutiny following a riot that broke out in April and allegations of sexual assault, neglect, and violence towards students.
In a statement emailed to ABC4 News, Sequel Youth and Family Services, the facility’s parent company, stressed its decision to voluntarily give up the school’s license and is working to safely transfer the 49 remaining students to alternative treatment centers.
“We are passionate about providing excellent programs that make permanent, positive changes in the lives of the people we serve. Over the last few months, in working with the Utah Department of Human Services, we have recognized that we have not consistently delivered on our mission,” the statement reads.
On April 28th, dozens of Red Rock Canyon students began fighting, first with one another, then with staffers. Fifty police officers from multiple agencies responded, including a SWAT team, and more than 25 students and staff were injured.
St. George police officers said most students and staff sustained “bumps and bruises,” and five people were transported to the local hospital while the rest refused treatment. One of the male Red Rock Canyon students was hit in the back of the head and required staples to the wound.
“There was a lot of rumor about stabbings or that there was an active shooter, which are false,” St. George Police Officer Tiffany Atkin said in an interview shortly after the riot. “Luckily no real weapons other than hands and fists and maybe feet were involved.”
Prosecutors charged Red Rock staffer Gino Sanchez with child abuse in late June, alleging he punching a 17-year-old female student in the face and pulling her hair during the brawl.
Charging documents state two staff members witnessed Sanchez as he “came up the stairs and confronted” the 17-year-old student, “[pulling] her hair and [punching] her in the face.”
Sanchez told police the girl attacked him and he pushed her back, denying punching her and “saying that if he did there would be injuries,” the documents state. Sanchez recently pleaded not guilty.
Former Red Rock employee Mandy Skougard told ABC 4 News she voluntarily quit her position in November 2017 directing caregivers for one of the female units after she witnessed a staffer provoking and assaulting a female student. Skougard said a group leader instructed her to “grab” a student.
“There’s so many ways to deescalate a situation without getting physical. I had personally witnessed the same group leader shove girls into the wall,” Skougard said. “I had watched big men slam girls down, push their faces into the ground, and hold their necks.”
“They wanted to grab the children. They wanted to hurt them. They were slammed to the ground,” added Skougard.
Skougard said she witnessed constant neglect, referencing staffers who would steal the students’ toilet paper or refuse to let them use shampoo and conditioner.
Utah state investigators began looking into allegations of sexual assault, violence, and neglect in May, threatening to revoke the school’s license if more than a dozen significant changes aren’t made.
Sequel says it’s completed 15 of the 16 Corrective Action Plan items in the amended Notice of Agency Action (NAA) stated by Utah Department of Human Services. The parent company says it expects the final item to be completed later this month.
Sequel says it’s closing the school “proactively to do what’s in the best interest of our students and staff” while addressing “the identified deficiencies and make the program consistent” with its “standards for the future.”
The treatment facility’s website says the school offers therapy and substance abuse counseling for those between 12 and 18 years of age who suffer from emotional problems such as low self-esteem and poor coping skills or have a history of drug or alcohol abuse.