The startling sexual assault allegations against a board member of Colorado’s largest school district no longer are his burden alone to bear. The real question now is what are Tay Anderson’s fellow board members at Denver Public Schools going to do about it?
And the same goes for the teachers union that — according to an alarming development reported this week — allegedly knew of sexual assault accusations against Anderson as long ago as 2019.
Education news site Chalkbeat Colorado reported Wednesday that the union had tried to get a candidate for a different board seat in that year’s election to switch to Anderson’s race. Chalkbeat reported that the union “was worried allegations about Anderson’s behavior would become public and knock him out of contention, according to two people who were present for the conversations.” The candidate refused, and the union ended up endorsing Anderson.
The union — the Denver Classroom Teachers Association, the collective-bargaining agent for many of the sprawling district’s 14,000 employees — has issued a statement calling that account “not true.”
That’s not good enough given the growing fallout surrounding Anderson; a group of students even staged a protest this week demanding action. And Chalkbeat’s detailed account is compelling — and plausible: “… two people in (then-candidate Radhika) Nath’s campaign who asked to remain anonymous confirmed that DCTA asked Nath to move because leaders expected a sexual assault allegation against Anderson to surface.”
The union should commission an independent investigation to check its facts — to look into who said, and knew, what and when. And the investigation and findings must be transparent.
For its part, the school board should demand the union carry out such an investigation immediately. Disappointingly, the board didn’t even mention the revelations involving the union in a lengthy and meandering public statement six board members — excluding Anderson — jointly posted to the board’s web page Thursday.
Perhaps we could expect no better of a panel whose majority was elected, and governs, with the very same union’s support.
The board’s statement largely is a rehash. It reminds the public the board’s independent investigation into the allegations is still underway and is expected to last to the end of summer. The statement obligingly urges “anyone with relevant information to reach out to the independent investigators at email@example.com.”
There are generic reassurances about the district’s “rigorous process for reviewing allegations of sexual harassment and sexual assault.” The statement lectures, as well: “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.”
Yet, none of it has compelled the board to call on Anderson to formally resign so that the board can proceed with its business with a full dais — and without a cloud of suspicion and controversy. Aside from hiring Investigations Law Group to look into the matter, the board has taken no formal action at all.
Over the past couple of months, Anderson has been accused publicly and repeatedly of sexual assault. The accusations involve more than one victim over time.
Anderson was first accused publicly of sexual misconduct in March by BlackLivesMatter5280, based on the account of an unnamed woman who came forward the month before and had asked for a public apology from Anderson. Not long afterward, former members of an anti-gun violence group said Anderson had engaged in inappropriate behavior when he was the group’s president in 2018.
And last month, as reported by our news affiliate Colorado Politics, a parent testified at a legislative committee hearing that a district employee she didn’t identify had sexually assaulted over 60 students. According to a statement from the Denver district’s Board of Education, the board was informed after the testimony that the accusations in fact were against Anderson. “The Denver Police are also aware of these accusations,” noted the board statement.
Anderson’s lawyer released a statement last week saying his client “categorically denies” the allegations. No criminal charges have been brought against Anderson. He recently released a statement announcing he was stepping back from his “everyday board functions,” but there was no mention of resigning. He proceeded to cast a vote in favor of hiring the district’s new superintendent, Alex Marrero, but since then has fallen off the public’s radar.
Anderson’s absence hasn’t left much of a void in the board’s functions. The limelight-loving, self-styled street activist has shown little interest in education policy or district operations. He has championed a few tangential proposals for the district; gender-neutral bathrooms come to mind. His board tenure to date has been overshadowed by his activism on other causes.
The board’s failure to take a substantive stand on the unfolding developments is embarrassing to the district and insulting to the public and the district’s students.
The key players — the board, the union, Anderson — all seem to be hunkering down in the hope it will blow over. Closing their eyes won’t make it go away, but it will lose what’s left of the public’s confidence.