Founder of group that fought drag shows resigned as a teacher after allegations of inappropriate and overly familiar relationships with students

Patricia Kent resigned from her teaching job in 1996 after her “relationship with her young female students became a matter of public knowledge in the school community.”

(Mark Eddington | The Salt Lake Tribune) A campaign banner for Patricia Kent, who ran a write-in campaign for Washington County clerk/auditor.

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St. George • Patricia Kent, a write-in candidate who lost her bid for the Washington County clerk/auditor’s position last week, ignited a firestorm of criticism for her comments about how drag shows were grooming children for immoral purposes.

Kent is the founder of the Liberty Action Coalition, which the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights recently listed as a far-right extremist organization. During her remarks at a Liberty Action Coalition meeting last month, Kent displayed pictures of youth at a pride event in St. George.

“Those are children, teenagers at best [who are] being promoted to the ideology of same-sex transgender,” she said. “This is supposed to be the new exciting lifestyle and everybody’s supposed to love it. They are grooming our children for immoral satanic worship.”

When she was a teacher, Kent was accused of unprofessional conduct and having inappropriate and overly familiar relationships with students. This led to her resignation from her job at Hurricane Middle School and the eventual suspension of her teaching certificate.

Kent resigned from her teaching job in 1996 after her “relationship with her young female students became a matter of public knowledge in the school community” and disrupted her “ability to teach,” according to a document outlining the findings of the Utah Professional Practices Advisory Commission (UPPAC).

Commission members found that Kent wrote intimate notes and gave gifts to her students as well as disclosed her personal problems to her young charges, according to the documents. Furthermore, the board said Kent used her position to “foster intimate and dependent relationships with young teen-aged girls” against the expressed concerns of the students’ parents and despite being warned by her supervisor at the time, principal Robert Goulding, to limit her involvement with students to “what is professionally expected.”

While there was evidence, according to the documents, that Kent engaged in a sexual relationship with a student, whose name is redacted, the evidence wasn’t sufficient or compelling enough for members to find that she had engaged in immoral conduct.

After Kent’s resignation, the UPPAC issued a complaint against her on Jan. 30, 1997, and conducted a hearing the following August, at which members recommended her teaching certificate be suspended until the end of the 1999-2000 school year.

On Jan. 15, 1998, however, the State Board of Education revoked Kent’s teaching certificate for unprofessional conduct as evidenced by overly familiar and physically intimate personal relationships with students and inappropriate discussions of religion and other topics. Upon Kent’s appeal, Steven Laing, then the state superintendent of public instruction, upheld the board’s revocation.

UPPAC members’ subsequent hearing on April 7, 2000, instead, led to a reversal of that revocation, and Kent’s license was suspended on June 30, 2000. The commission also informed her that it would consider reinstating her teaching certificate if she had an evaluation from a commission-approved clinical psychologist, who would provide documentation to assure that Kent could determine appropriate boundaries between professional and personal relationships and apply that knowledge in her “professional and personal life.”

Kent’s license was never reinstated.

“After what I went through I have no desire to ever be back in the school system,” she told The Tribune.

As for her discussing religion with her students, Kent said that complaint stemmed from a parent saying the teacher was too close to her daughter.

“The bottom line is her daughter came to me and said, ‘I want to be more religious and I want to do these things,’” Kent recalled, adding she told her student to take seminary, which further upset the girl’s mother. Seminary is a four-year religious educational program The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints operates for youth ages 14 through 18.

She also takes umbrage at the allegation she wrote inappropriate notes to students. Kent said one mother’s daughter had written letters to her and she had written cards to the student “telling her to hang in there… And I’ve signed everything my whole life, ‘Love Patricia,’” which she said some might view as inappropriate. “You can’t love anybody anymore unless there’s something wrong,” she added.

Kent says she did nothing wrong. On April 2, 2000, she filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court against the state school board and UPPAC, claiming her due process and equal protection rights guaranteed by the Constitution had been violated. On July 14, 2000, Judge Tena Campbell noted a settlement had been reached and dismissed the case with prejudice, meaning the suit could not be brought again. She further instructed both parties to pay their own attorney fees and costs.

The Tribune has been unable to locate the settlement from the court, State Board of Education or Utah Attorney General’s Office. For her part, Kent claims she was fully exonerated and received a cash settlement from the state, but refuses to disclose who exonerated her or to reveal any details about the agreement.

“I could but I won’t …,” she said. “It’s absurd that 26 years later, people are making a big issue out of this. If I was guilty of what I was accused of, I would have been put in jail, OK. I wasn’t … I was paid off. And that should be the end of it. I am not one to live in the past. Like I said, I’ve moved on with my life. I continue to do what I need to do to live a normal life.”

Stephen Cook, Kent’s attorney in the lawsuit, said a settlement does not equate with exoneration.

“It wouldn’t apply in a case like this at all. So I don’t know where she’s getting that,” said Cook, who retired six years ago. “A settlement is a settlement. It just means that both parties agree to not litigate their issues any further and [to] resolve them.”

Kent, a longtime political activist who is the national chair of the Independent American Party, has been embroiled in several controversies over the past several years.

Since the Liberty Action Coalition’s founding in July 2020, members have united to oppose socialism, mask mandates, Black Lives Matter and mandatory vaccinations for children. In response to reports of a Black Lives Matter protest in St. George in August 2000, coalition members formed a minuteman group to work with militias in southern Utah, according to an article in the St. George News. In America’s Revolutionary War, minutemen were men who pledged to take up arms at a minute’s notice.

Some anti-Black Lives Matter protesters packed pistols and AR-style rifles.

“I learned a long time ago that talk is cheap,” Kent told the St. George News. “But when it comes to defending your rights, most terrorists, most antagonists, most rioters don’t listen to anything unless you’re armed.”

At the coalition’s meeting in October, Kent sounded the alarm about drag shows, schools and movies grooming children into same-sex ideology.

“I don’t watch Hallmark movies anymore because I never know when they’re going to sneak in that homosexual couple,” she said. “They’re not good family movies anymore. We know Walt Disney is no longer family-friendly and hasn’t been for a long time …”

Morgan Barrick, operations director of Pride of Southern Utah, said Kent’s diatribes against drag shows and same-sex matters won’t prevent members of the LGBTQ community from moving forward.

“But at the same time, the hate that is being spewed by Patricia Kent is affecting us personally,” she said. “It’s affecting our trans community. It’s affecting the people who are needing to come out. I truly believe that drag shows save lives. I believe visibility saves lives. And we’re not going to stop.”