“This is wrong and as a student it makes me feel like I can’t (sic) fully trust anyone at my school.”
When I saw this comment from one Denver Public Schools student on a petition about board member Tay Anderson, my heart sank.
“This is wrong. Someone who does that to KIDS don’t need to be around us,” another student’s comment reads. “DPS needs to do something.”
How have the adults failed so many DPS kids that they feel like they can’t trust their own school leaders?
The petitioners refer to allegations against Anderson that he sexually assaulted 62 students, most of whom are allegedly undocumented. The allegations – first made public in legislative testimony last week by Mary-Katherine Brooks Fleming – range from unwanted touching to violent rape.
According to Brooks Fleming, Anderson’s abuse didn’t stop after the assaults: He intimidated students as well. “I’ll find you anywhere,” Anderson purportedly threatened them. Given their immigration status, the alleged survivors of Anderson’s assaults have been terrified. DPS students feel powerless, like their voices are not being heard – the same powerlessness that the alleged victims have felt.
So, DPS high school students banded together to initiate two online petitions themselves.
Let’s be real: The kids know what’s up with Tay Anderson, and they’re showing and telling us.
The first online petition calls for new diplomas to be issued to 2021 high school graduates with Anderson’s name excluded from them. “I know many victims of his violence,” the petition reads. “They do not deserve to live with his name forever.”
The second petition calls for Anderson’s arrest and justice for the 62 alleged victims. “This isn’t just any allegation, it’s 62 children and counting, who have come forward to a trusted individual and confided in them about what he’s allegedly done to them,” the petition reads. It had 629 of a 1,000-signature goal as of deadline Wednesday.
Additionally, on Sunday, the Colorado High School Democrats were the very first to call for Anderson’s resignation.
“Director Anderson has lost the confidence of the students and families of his school district. Students, including our many members in DPS, should not have to be afraid of one of their school board members,” said COHSD Chairman Spencer Wilcox. “He must resign.”
An adult finally exposed these allegations in legislative testimony. Teenagers took the baton and ran with it. Why is it that high school kids have to lead the charge for their own protection from their own school board member?
Because they know what’s up with Tay Anderson. They really know. They usually know more than the adults do. They’ve lived with it.
“He was always weird, walking around being too friendly with the students, and also making others uncomfortable when he used to stand there,” one petition signer writes.
Are DPS leaders and our elected officials hearing these kids? Because I am.
Along those lines, some undocumented survivors who want to come forward may be concerned that their status could result in deportation. Fortunately, there are legal protections in place for undocumented victims that they can trust. I asked the Colorado Attorney General’s Office about this; they pointed to the U-visa program established by the federal government.
“The law allows the Office of the Attorney General to certify U-visas for victims, although U-visas are mostly issued through cooperation with local law enforcement agencies that prosecute the vast majority of Victim Rights Act crimes. The Attorney General’s Office is committed to supporting victims, who should feel confident reporting their experiences regardless of their status.”
The AG’s office also highlights a new state law intended “to provide greater protections for victims seeking a U-visa.” This gives law enforcement agencies “new limitations preventing the disclosure of a victim’s personal identifying information or immigration status except when complying with federal law.”
Mid-West Acting Regional Director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Aletha Smock, also bolsters this assurance. “ICE continues to focus its enforcement efforts and limited resources on threats to national security, border security and public safety,” she says. In other words, undocumented students reporting sexual assault against a school board member are not on ICE’s priority list.
Alleged undocumented victims of Anderson should ask for a U-visa. They shouldn’t let fear and distrust hold them back from reporting a crime.
On Wednesday, Attorney General Weiser also provided me a personal statement on the accusations. “The allegations against Director Anderson are very disturbing,” he said. “Each and every one of these allegations should be fully investigated, and, if warranted, prosecuted. Any person who committed such behavior should have no role in public office or a position of authority.”
Tay Anderson said he would step away from his role while the allegations are investigated. He shouldn’t have been permitted to vote on the next DPS superintendent. This puts his voice above those of frightened students.
Even so, these kids are being heard. Their courage and their fortitude are inspiring. They’re showing adults the way to make a real difference. They should know to keep pushing – keep leading.
Jimmy Sengenberger is host of “The Jimmy Sengenberger Show” on News/Talk 710 KNUS. He also hosts “Jimmy at the Crossroads,” a webshow and podcast in partnership with The Washington Examiner.