As Red Rock Canyon School gears for closure, parent company shutters sister institution

Red Rock Canyon School located on St. George Boulevard in St. George, Utah, on July 10, 2019 | Photo by Ryann Richardson, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — Sequel Youth and Family Services, the parent company of a youth treatment facility in St. George, has announced the closure of another facility in Mount Pleasant.

Red Rock Canyon School on St. George Boulevard is scheduled to close its doors in the coming weeks and relinquish its license after its involvement in a number of county and state investigations involving physical and sexual abuse. Sequel Youth and Family Services announced the voluntarily closure last week.

Now, the company is closing another treatment facility – Mount Pleasant Academy – known for using equestrian therapy to help boys age 12-18 with compulsive sexual behaviors, sensitive sexual issues, pornography addiction and digital addictions. 

A statement emailed to St. George News from a representative of Sequel Youth and Family Services said the company did “not make this decision lightly” and the closure will occur over the next 30 days. The company said it is not relinquishing its license, which is valid for another 10 months.

“We are considering how to repurpose Mount Pleasant to serve the needs of a broader population of clients.”

Red Rock Canyon School located on St. George Boulevard in St. George, Utah, on July 10, 2019 | Photo by Ryann Richardson, St. George News

According to Sequel, the decision to close the academy is unrelated to recent events at Red Rock Canyon School or other Sequel schools in the area, including Lava Heights Academy and Falcon Ridge Ranch.

In order for the school to effectively support its students, Sequel said the academy needed to maintain a minimum population size. Mount Pleasant’s capacity allowed for 16 boys at a time, but Sequel said the school has been significantly under capacity for some time.

“Sequel is privileged with the trust of many partners, agencies, and families across the country to equip our students with the tools, motivations, life skills and education necessary to lead successful lives. We treat that responsibility with the utmost respect, and work relentlessly to identify opportunities to be a more effective provider and build the services and programs necessary to meet and exceed our clients’ needs and customers’ expectations.”

Red Rock Canyon School

Sequel is voluntarily closing Red Rock Canyon School within the next 60 days and is working with families, state agencies and case workers to transfer the 49 remaining students to alternative treatment facilities. The school had been providing psychiatric residential treatment services to youth from 12-18 years old since 1999. 

Sequel currently employs about 120 full-time staff at Red Rock Canyon School, and according to the statement, the company is working with each staff member to provide a number of employee assistance initiatives, including internal and external job placement, resume review, stress management and resilience support. 

One employee who had been with the company for over four years told St. George News his employment was terminated without warning less than a week before the company announced that it would be closing the school.

He said Sequel is “only in it for themselves.”

In his time with the company, he said he never witnessed instances of physical abuse but said he is aware of a student becoming pregnant by another employee after the student was no longer enrolled in the school.

Read more: Students speak out against treatment at Red Rock Canyon School; parent company responds to investigation

The former employee said there are a number of “amazing people” who work and have worked at Red Rock Canyon School, but the allegations and events surrounding the facility “have made all of us look like terrible people, which is so far from the truth.”

“I am saddened that I do not work there anymore, and all I do is wish the best for the kids and for the staff that I worked with because we truly were like a family.”

State involvement and investigation

On April 28, St. George Police were called to the school for troubled youth after widespread fighting broke out, resulting in multiple injuries and arrests of students

Law enforcement officers respond to a riot at Red Rock Canyon School, St. George, Utah, April 28, 2019 | File photo by Joseph Witham, St. George News

Former Red Rock School employee Sandra Lou said both students and staff are responsible for the problems within the school. At the end of the day, she said staff did not have the support they needed.

“The staff did their best, in my opinion. We were all trained to keep the students safe when they acted out with one another. We would often break up their fights with restraints.”

According to Lou, some of the students were “the worst kids you could ever imagine” and should not have been placed at Red Rock. These students should have been sent to centers with more discipline, she said.

Utah state investigators announced in May that they were looking into claims of sexual assault, violence and neglect. A letter posted to the Utah Legislature website reported that the treatment facility’s licensure had been placed on a “conditional status” and outlined nine violations and observations of “numerous accounts of mistreatment, abuse, acts of violence and overall disrespect toward residents.”

The school was required to make over a dozen significant changes in order to keep its license. Sequel reported it has completed 15 of the 16 corrective action plan items outlined in the letter and expects the final item to be completed later this month.

Allegations of abuse

An employee of Red Rock Canyon School, Gino Euler Sanchez, was charged with a class A misdemeanor count of child abuse involving physical injury June 28 as a result of the fight that broke out in April. Sanchez allegedly punched a 17-year-old female student in the face and pulled her hair during the event. He recently pleaded not guilty

Red Rock Canyon School on St. George Boulevard in St. George, Utah, on July 10, 2019 | Photo by Ryann Richardson, St. George News

“I can assure you he was an amazing person, and the only reason why I can see him doing anything to harm a student was to defend himself during that chaotic time,” a former Red Rock employee said.

Red Rock Canyon School is also involved in a number of investigations in multiple states regarding physical and sexual abuse of its students. There are two ongoing investigations based in Utah and California alleging two incidents of sexual abuse by two separate staff. 

“Nobody else was looking out to protect my daughter, and I sent her there for help,” a parent of one of the alleged victims said. “I didn’t send her there to be abused in any way, shape or form.”

The school has been the subject of two lawsuits claiming the school allowed a now-registered sex offender to work with and assault clients. Red Rock Canyon School officials said the school did not believe the employee was a danger to residents when he worked at the treatment facility. A 2008 lawsuit outlined similar practices.

Email: rrichardson@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews | @AvereeRyann 

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2019, all rights reserved.

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