Independent investigators say they have been unable to corroborate stunning sexual assault allegations against first-term Denver school board member Tay Anderson. But that’s only one of the takeaways of their report released Wednesday by Denver Public Schools.
What the report does corroborate is deeply troubling in its own right — startling allegations of sexual harassment by Anderson of students. And unlike the assault allegations, which Anderson has denied, even Anderson acknowledges, in whole or in part, the harassment incidents that occurred over several years. Like other public figures called out for sexual misconduct, Anderson quibbles over the details. But the basic facts are not in dispute.
It is all so disturbing that even Anderson’s fellow school board members — shamefully mute for months as the allegations swirled — will consider formally censuring him at a meeting scheduled for today. The board issued a joint statement posted to its website on Wednesday announcing the upcoming censure vote and admonishing Anderson.
“… (T)he report reveals behavior unbecoming of a board member. As elected officials, we must hold ourselves and each other to the highest standards in carrying out the best interests of the district,” the statement reads in part. “Director Anderson’s behavior does not meet those standards.”
The statement is a departure from months of pretending, “there’s nothing to see here, folks,” and of carrying on with Anderson as if nothing had happened. Yet, it’s also a dramatic understatement of the gravity of the situation.
And a censure, if the board agrees on one, would be an insultingly inadequate response. Tay Anderson must leave office now.
His behavior was not only disgraceful and reprehensible; it was also corrupt: He abused his position for his personal gratification.
Every day he remains in office is a stain on the Denver Public Schools board; a slap at all students and their families, and a horrible example for the state’s largest school district to set for all the others. His continued presence on the board makes a mockery of the effort and dedication of all elected officials, faculty and staff who serve in public education across our state.
Anderson is an elected official who is supposed to serve with his peers as the ultimate guardians of our children’s welfare and safety while at school. Instead, he was trying to seduce them. It was a fundamental betrayal of his responsibility in a position of trust over minors. It only makes matters worse that some of his conduct dates to his time as a school district employee and even before that. But it is utterly outrageous he was preying on high school girls while running for, and then holding, his elected school board post.
Like the 17-year-old Douglas County high schooler he began pursuing over Snapchat while he was campaigning in 2018. As chronicled in the report, he pressed her for a sleepover at his place then hurled insults at her when she rebuffed him. The teen later told investigators, “He made me feel extremely uncomfortable and scared to go places in the case I would see him.”
Or, the 16-year-old Denver Public Schools student to whom he sent overtures via text and Facebook just last year. “Do you still stay with family or do you have your own spot?” he asked at one point — later insisting for the record he didn’t know her age at the time.
Has the board learned nothing from the #MeToo movement? Or, has it decided it simply doesn’t apply in this case? Anderson pursued vulnerable students — minors — from his position of trust. A school board is no place for a predator.
Keep in mind that parts of the investigators’ report have been redacted and have yet to be made public. That’s partly in deference to Anderson’s claim that release would “violate his privacy interests,” as the board put it in its joint statement. The district has promised to pursue the matter in court.
Keep in mind, as well, that a separate Denver police investigation of the sexual assault allegations reportedly remains underway.
Yet, even if the sexual assault allegations weren’t dogging him, Tay Anderson would be grossly unfit for his office simply on the basis of the appalling behavior that has been confirmed.
Former Democratic state Rep. Steve Lebsock of Thornton was expelled from Colorado’s House of Representatives in 2018 for sexually harassing a fellow lawmaker among others. Unlike the General Assembly, however, Colorado school boards do not appear to have the power to remove one of their own members.
Recall seems to be the only way to compel his exit, but the community shouldn’t have to go through that. Denver’s school board must speak up, not hide behind a hollow censure. His peers must demand that he step down now.
Read the full, 96-page report at https://bit.ly/3EscrNq.
The Gazette Editorial Board