More than 1,000 students walked out of Denver Public Schools classrooms across the city Monday to protest school board member Tay Anderson and call for his resignation after his colleagues censured him last week for “behavior unbecoming of a board member.”
Friday’s vote by the DPS board to publicly reprimand Anderson followed the release of a third-party investigation into allegations of sexual assault against the 23-year-old elected official.
The months-long investigation did not substantiate any of those claims, but did conclude Anderson had flirted online with a 16-year-old student this summer before knowing her age, and made coercive and intimidating social media posts during the investigation.
The students who walked out Monday morning gathered outside the school district’s downtown headquarters, chanting “Hey hey, ho ho, Tay Anderson has got to go,” and “Women’s rights are human rights.” City public safety officials estimated 1,000 to 1,200 students gathered outside the district offices, a DPS spokesman said.
Some students at the protest told Chalkbeat Colorado they felt Anderson should resign over the sexual assault allegations — even though they weren’t substantiated. Others pointed to the investigator’s conclusion that the school board member had flirted with a teen online.
“Sexual assault is not a thing to play with,” Ashley Robinson, who organized the walkout at North High School, told Chalkbeat. “Nobody is out to get Tay Anderson. It could be Santa Claus, and we would want him out.”
Eleven students from various city high schools also met with DPS Superintendent Alex Marrero, school board president Carrie Olson and vice president Jennifer Bacon.
In the meeting, students detailed their concerns about student safety and said they were “embarrassed and disappointed to see how Director Anderson was responding to the censure by continuing to disparage and attack anyone who was concerned about his behavior towards students,” Olson said during an afternoon news conference inside DPS headquarters.
As a result of Monday’s conversations, school board officials said students would be included in discussions as the board writes a code of conduct policy for school board members.
“Our students’ messages came through today, loud and clear,” Bacon said. “We need to do more to make sure that our students feel safe and that board members are held accountable for everything we do.”
Anderson defiantly defended himself Friday before and during the special school board meeting, calling the censure vote a “high-tech lynching.” A host of Black leaders stood beside him to deride white supremacy, referring to the vote and investigation as a “witch hunt.”
Bacon pointedly called out Anderson’s response to the censure, saying the board hopes that he will “not provoke and disparage anyone who has concerns with his behavior.”
Asked about Anderson’s use of the phrase “high-tech lynching” to describe his treatment, Bacon, who is Black, said, “We took the steps necessary to ensure that due process was properly given.”
Anderson forcefully rejected calls to resign Friday ahead of the censure vote, he forcefully rejected that notion. The board cannot remove Anderson from his post.
In a statement posted to Twitter on Monday, Anderson said he “unequivocally supports the First Amendment and the right to protest,” while reiterating that the investigation released last week did not substantiate any claims of sexual assault.
He is set to speak at 6 p.m. Monday from Brother Jeff’s Cultural Center in Five Points about “unifying a divided district” and to “begin a conversation in order to move forward with the difficult work of rebuilding trust with students,” the statement said. He also said on Twitter that he will address his future on the board.
The 96-page report also found he made unwelcome sexual comments, advances and contact toward female students affiliated with a student-led gun control group that he co-founded three years ago. Anderson largely admitted to those allegations and apologized, according to the report.
But the investigation did not substantiate the most serious claims against Anderson, including allegations made by an anonymous woman through Black Lives Matter 5280 in March that Anderson sexually assaulted her.
Investigators also did not corroborate allegations made by a DPS parent before a state legislative committee that a predator in the school district had committed rape, sexual assault or sexual misconduct against 62 students. The DPS board later said the woman had been referring to Anderson.
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