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Tay Anderson's Shadow Hangs Over Denver School Board Meeting

A look at the six Denver Board of Education members who participated in the June 10 meeting.
A look at the six Denver Board of Education members who participated in the June 10 meeting.
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During the June 10 meeting of the Denver Public Schools Board of Education, six members tried to focus on a lengthy agenda. But the shadow cast by the controversy surrounding absent boardmember Tay Anderson, who announced early this month that he's stepping back from most board duties during the independent investigation into assorted accusations of sexual impropriety that have surfaced over the past two and a half months.

Before the meeting, a protest staged by recent North High School graduate Gigi Gordon, founder of a Facebook group called End Human Trafficking Everywhere, drew an estimated twenty people. That was enough to prompt the six boardmembers aside from Anderson — Dr. Carrie Olson, Jennifer Bacon, Angela Cobián, Scott Baldermann, Reverend Bradley Laurvick and Barbara O’Brien — to release a statement in advance of the meeting praising student participation and offering an update on the inquiry into Anderson's activities.

Among the revelations in the statement: The board has spent in excess of $50,000 on the inquiry so far, and no Anderson accusers have yet contacted the Denver Police Department.

The meeting was conducted virtually, and included a public comments period during which Gordon told boardmembers that their statement was both inadequate and "just political." She also demanded that graduation diplomas be reissued without Anderson's name on them, and maintained that his potential return to the board would be a "complete disaster" that would "make a lot of people scared to go to school."

Her comments come about an hour into the video below:

Also on June 10, the Denver Classroom Teachers Association confirmed information reported in publications such as Chalkbeat that during the months prior to the 2019 election in which Anderson won his seat, the DCTA campaign fund received "an anonymous letter containing unsubstantiated, nebulous allegations that Mr. Anderson had misused board funds and acted inappropriately toward a woman on the Board of Directors of a local advocacy group."

The organization in question was the gun-reform organization Never Again Colorado, whose members shared criticism of Anderson with Westword in April. They made no claims of sexual assault, but accused him of creating a work environment that made them feel unsafe by, among other things, "talking in code about female board members in front of them (with romantic/sexual subtexts), daring female board members to perform sexualized actions, having conversations comparing the attractiveness of female board members, and making lewd comments in private to female board members."

Anderson responded to the assertions with a statement that included this: "Although I would have never intended for anyone to feel unsafe or uncomfortable around myself or others, I deeply apologize to the women-identifying members of NAC for the impact of my actions."

The DCTA confirms that overseers of the fund looked at potential candidates other than Anderson to endorse and suggested to one, Radhika Nath, that she consider entering the race. In the end, though, Anderson won the fund's backing, as well as the election. His attorney, Christopher Decker, told Chalkbeat that any assertion Anderson "was approached by anyone in DCTA, or other candidates, specifically about any sexual assault allegations is categorically false."

The messy matter won't be cleaned up anytime soon. According to the six DPS board members, the probe may not be completed until "the end of the summer."

By the way, Decker provided Westword with a statement making it clear that Anderson wasn't in the loop before the board's released its take — although he wouldn't have objected had he been given the opportunity to see it in advance.

Decker writes: "Director Anderson is saddened by the fact that the DPS Board issued a statement concerning the status of unproven allegations against him only minutes before their public meeting last night, and this without even having attempted to reach out to him for input or participation. He fully and completely agrees with this appropriate statement, but regrets that six members of Board and their Counsel have apparently adopted an adversarial posture before the independent investigation has even been completed. I have personally reached out to DPS general Counsel, and Counsel for the DPS Board, neither of whom have responded to my outreach concerning why Director Anderson was not treated like other Board members regarding important public communications and handling this ongoing matter. Once again, Director Anderson fully supports and adopts the statement issued by the six Board members which he was not given until after it was released."

Here are the June 10 statements of both the Board of Education and the DCTA.

Denver Board of Education

The Denver Board of Education hears the voices of the community and we, six members of the Board, release this statement to share our continued commitment to action. On April 6th, 2021, this Board launched an independent external investigation to respond to allegations made on social media from BLM5280 and Never Again Colorado against Director Tay Anderson. The Board hired Investigations Law Group — experienced, independent investigators — who had previously reviewed sexual harassment allegations in the Colorado Legislature.

In late May, additional allegations were brought forward by a woman who testified in the legislature that dozens of Denver students had shared deeply concerning stories with her. The Board reported this information to Denver Police, but to our knowledge, no individuals have come forward to the police.

We believe that everyone deserves to be heard; they deserve fair procedures and due process. That’s why the Board has invested more than $50,000 in this investigation. And to ensure no stone is left unturned, we anticipate investing even more. We need to get this right.

The Board continues to implore anyone with relevant information to reach out to the independent investigators at interviews@ilgdenver.com. It is critically important that all individuals feel safe and supported to participate in this process. We are a Safe and Welcoming school district. The Board will use any and all authority it has to protect those who participate. Please understand that DPS and the Board are legally bound to protect the names and identities of anyone that comes forward to share an experience of sexual harassment. The investigation team anticipates concluding its interviews by the end of June. If you have relevant information, please do not delay in reaching out. The Board anticipates having findings by the end of the summer at the latest.

The most important action we can take is to protect the integrity of the investigation and make no judgments on its outcome until it is complete. This is our chance to know all the facts. It is dependent on the courage of people to come forward and share information they have with trained investigators or law enforcement. We thank everyone who has participated in the investigation to date. When we have the facts from a fair and thorough investigation, the Board is committed to acting as quickly as possible, within the constraints of Board policy and state law.

We also know that this investigation has encouraged many students to raise their voices and share experiences that do not have any connection to Director Anderson. Those experiences are equally important. We hear you, and we encourage you to raise your voices. In a school district the size of a small city — with 14,000 employees and 90,000 students — we collectively have power to create safe classrooms and workspaces. That’s what our students and employees deserve. It takes every one of us. We believe: our schools must teach comprehensive health, with information on consent. Our employees must know how to report concerns they receive and how to support students who experience sexual harassment or improper sexual conduct. We must have strong mental health resources. Our procedures must be fair and thorough to evaluate and respond to concerns. Our students must understand how to get help, and then trust they will get that help in a trauma-informed and culturally responsive manner. We are committed to working collectively with all of you on this vision.

To our students who are protesting today, thank you for raising your voices. To protect the integrity of the ongoing investigation and give students space to speak their truth, Board members will not attend today’s protest, but we do want to hear your stories. We want to hear them in a space where we can act on them fairly and confidentially. In our place, our Title IX Officer, Kristin Bailey, will be present at today’s event to talk with students and share resources. Information about how to report concerns so DPS can act on them is also linked on the main DPS webpage under Discrimination Harassment and Title IX.

Denver Public Schools has a rigorous process for reviewing allegations of sexual harassment and sexual assault. When an allegation triggers our legal obligations as mandatory reporters of child abuse, we first report the allegation to the police. We recognize that this can be incredibly challenging for students when they want to tell an adult about an experience in confidence. As mandatory reporters, however, all DPS employees must report any act of unlawful sexual behavior.

While a report of unlawful sexual behavior or sexual harassment is under review by the police or in our own internal investigation process, we also work with the students involved to provide supportive measures, put safety plans in place if needed, and take steps to ensure no retaliation or bullying results. We take all allegations very seriously and seek to ensure that the process is fair and thorough for all involved.

It is critical to the our community that those who may have experienced sexual harassment are heard and supported, and that those who are accused receive due process.

Denver Classroom Teachers Association

The following statement can be attributed to Rob Gould, special education teacher and president of the Denver Classroom Teachers Association (DCTA):

The DCTA Fund is a group of elected and appointed members of DCTA, whose function is to recommend the endorsement of political candidates during election cycles. There is an official endorsement process the Fund consistently uses and we, as a group, followed that process in the 2019 election.

In June 2019, the Fund received an anonymous letter containing unsubstantiated, nebulous allegations that Mr. Anderson had misused board funds and acted inappropriately toward a woman on the Board of Directors of a local advocacy group. The letter provided no specificity about the allegations and there was nothing to support that a minor could be involved so there was no duty to report. Knowing that smear campaigns are fairly common during election season, the Fund members asked Mr. Anderson about the allegations and were satisfied with his responses that they were unfounded. Beyond that, the Fund does not have the capacity to conduct background investigations for each and every candidate.

Early on in the process, as is always the case, multiple people can be sought out and can come forward as potential candidates for endorsement. The DCTA Fund was looking at all options and in May 2019, asked Ms. Nath to consider running in the at-large race prior to receiving the anonymous letter. After navigating the endorsement process and receiving member input, Mr. Anderson is who we ultimately recommended by a consensus vote.

As stated previously, we fully support Denver Public School’s decision to conduct a third party investigation and we are ready and willing to cooperate with the investigation as needed. We continue our commitment to advocating for safe and exceptional public schools for all students, no matter the zip code in which they live.

As this investigation is pending we feel it is not appropriate for us to provide any more comment at this time but look forward to reviewing the results when and if they are made public.

This post has been updated to include a statement from attorney Christopher Decker.

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