Denver School Board director Tay Anderson speaks to a crowd outside the Colorado Capitol on May 30, 2020, at a protest over George Floyd's death. (Moe Clark, The Colorado Sun)

Updated Sept. 17, 2021, at 6:23 p.m.: This has been updated with the results of the Denver Public Schools board meeting.

Denver Public Schools board members voted 6-1 to censure fellow member Tay Anderson on Friday, two days after a report detailing a six-month investigation into Anderson revealed he engaged in behavior the board deemed unbecoming.

Anderson was the only dissenting vote.

The censure followed a media briefing Anderson held outside the main offices of Denver Public Schools where he told a mixed crowd of supporters and protestors he will not resign.

Inside the boardroom, directors expressed relief that the most serious allegations of sexual assault against Anderson were not substantiated. But they also condemned actions cited in a 96-page report released on Wednesday revealing that, after being elected to the board, Anderson flirted with a 16-year-old student before learning her age and made social media posts that were intimidating toward witnesses.

The report shed light on a “disturbing pattern” of inappropriate behavior and intimidation, said Board President Carrie Olson, who voted to censure Anderson.

Olson said she does not believe that Anderson needs to resign.

“I do think he needs to learn from this experience,” said Olson, adding that she voted with “a very heavy heart.”

Board member Angela Cobián, however, said she hopes “Anderson reconsiders his participation on this board as secretary and as treasurer.”

Anderson “does not merit a seat on this board,” Cobián said.

Other board members echoed disapproval of Anderson’s behavior.

“He is in a position of authority and leadership in Denver, but he has set no boundaries between his personal behavior and his powerful role on the school board,” board member Barbara O’Brien said.

Board member Bradley Laurvick said board members need to set an example in their personal conduct.

Bernie Sanders rally Feb. 16, 2020
Denver School Board director Tay Anderson speaks at the Colorado Organize to Win 2020 Summit on Feb. 16 at the Mercury Cafe in Denver. (Moe Clark, Special to The Colorado Sun)

“Our commitment is to uphold the highest ethical standards,” Laurvick said. “The highest ethical standards do not include flirting with DPS students or anyone of student-age, behaviors the report substantiates. The highest ethical standards do not include coercion and intimidation, behaviors the report substantiates. I support a motion of censure because this is how we as a board demonstrate there is a line and it was crossed.”

Olson noted that outside of a censure, there is no disciplinary action the board can take.

Anderson, 23, offered fiery remarks in his defense and told the board he had been targeted because of his race.  

“Is this 1955 or is this 2021?” he asked. He compared himself to Emmett Till, a 14-year-old Black boy from Chicago who was brutally murdered while visiting Mississippi in August 1955 after allegations that he harassed a white woman.

“False allegations aren’t anything new to this country,” he told his board colleagues. “On March 26, 2021, false allegations of sexual assault led my life to change forever. That was the day I became known as a rapist in our community.”

Anderson recounted the racist slurs and profane words that have been leveled at him in recent months. He also hit on how the lives of his family members, including his 4-month-old son, have been threatened following the allegations.

Anderson said he acknowledged his mistake in flirting with a 16-year-old, noting that he has owned up to his missteps and cooperated with investigators.

Findings from the investigation into Anderson were released Wednesday in a heavily redacted report, along with a statement from the board that called his behavior “unbecoming of a board member.” 

The report, completed by Investigations Law Group, found that Anderson engaged in “flirtatious social media contact” with a 16-year-old DPS student after he was elected to the board, and that he posted threatening social media messages during the investigation. Anderson told investigators he didn’t know the girl was underage and that he broke off communications with her when he learned her age. The probe turned up no additional evidence of inappropriate conduct with her.

But the investigation found “it was more likely than not” that in 2018, before he was elected to the school board, he made unwelcome sexual comments and advances toward members and associates of the board of directors of Never Again Colorado, a student organization at University of Denver.

Anderson, who graduated from Manual High School in 2017, was employed by DPS at the time, but investigators found no connection between his work for the district and his participation in Never Again Colorado.

The investigation found no evidence to support allegations that he sexually assaulted 62 DPS students. The allegations were made by a DPS parent during a testimony to state lawmakers in May, but the report questioned her credibility.

MORE: Read the full report by Investigations Law Group, here.

Before voting to censure Anderson, Board Vice President Jennifer Bacon highlighted the struggles Black men have faced throughout history and continue to face, saying that she understands those struggles firsthand.

“I know the undignified and poor treatment of Black men, particularly in this country,” Bacon said. “I am a Black woman with Black brothers, cousins, uncles and my father.”

She emphasized the importance of taking historical context into account during the investigation.

“I do not think you should be removed from the board, but I do think you need to be held accountable and know the boundaries of your behavior,” Bacon told Anderson.

Anderson reiterated that he will not resign in remarks to a crowd outside the DPS offices before his censure, as he stood flanked by members of the NAACP and the Greater Metro Denver Ministerial Alliance. 

Some in the crowd heckled him, including Jeanna Hoch, a DPS parent.

“He intimidates women,” Hoch said through a megaphone, denying the investigation was “a race issue.”

Supporters of Anderson responded by calling her a bigot, while a couple other protestors joined Hoch in calling for him to resign. 

“I will stay on the board until 2023, and we will continue the work we started in 2019,” Anderson said, referring to the censure initiative as a “high-tech lynching.”

A person who stood next to Anderson held a sign reading, “DPS will silence you after they waste money to find nothing!” 

The investigation cost DPS $105,449.63, television station KDVR reported.

Bishop Jerry Demmer, president of the Greater Metro Denver Ministerial Alliance, called it a “witch hunt.”

“We’ve got a problem when people get together and they come together and say, ‘We’re going to get together and all stand on falsehoods. We’re going to stand together on lies,’” Demmer said. “That is a problem.”

The Investigations Law Group report acknowledged the sensitivity of the investigation in light of the fact that Anderson is a Black man and the country’s history of “false accusations against Black men of sexual assault, oftentimes based on the allegations of white women.”

“Director Anderson, his supporters and others have stated that the allegations that initiated this process are racially motivated,” the report stated. “This situation involves a young Black man standing publicly accused by a white woman ostensibly speaking on behalf of non-white victims. Director Anderson is the only Black male member of the Board of Education. As such, race is a context that cannot be ignored in this case.”

Anderson helped lead social justice demonstrations in Denver and Aurora last year after the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. His rising stature within the national anti-police-violence movement caught the attention of high-profile Republicans, like Donald Trump Jr., and led to threats against Anderson from anonymous social media users.

The sexual assault allegations against Anderson were made public by Black Lives Matter 5280, a community organizing group that emerged from anti-police violence protests.

The investigation was also a matter of sensitivity for sexual assault survivors. The report described how survivors are often retraumatized when explaining their assault to investigators and are questioned about their responsibility in their assault. Some of the young people involved in the allegations were reportedly undocumented immigrants, which investigators recognize as a vulnerable community.

 After the censure, Anderson said he wants to put his focus and the board’s focus back on students.

“Today is just a day for us to close this chapter and be able to move forward together,” Anderson said to a crowd of supporters and reporters. “The board has spoken. They censured me, which means…they disapproved of my actions. Now it’s time to get back to work for our children.”

Erica Breunlin

Email: Twitter: @EricaBreunlin