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Denver high school students protest outside DPS offices calling for removal of board member Tay Anderson

Students from across Colorado's largest district held a walkout Monday morning, insisting they feel unsafe and want DPS to do more to protect them.

Hundreds of high school students march from Denver North High to Denver Public Schools and Expeditionary building to call for the resignation of board member Tay Anderson on Monday, Sept. 20, 2021. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun)
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Hundreds of students who walked out of Denver high schools Monday morning converged outside Denver Public Schools’ downtown offices calling for the removal of board member Tay Anderson.   

“Hey hey, ho ho, Tay Anderson has got to go,” was among the chants from a crowd of more than 300 students gathered outside DPS at 1860 Lincoln St. “Lock him up!” went another. 

Many of the students marched from North High School 3 miles away beginning at 10 a.m., joining up with students from the Denver Center for International Studies, George Washington High School, Denver School of the Arts, Denver East High School and Denver South High School. They reached the DPS headquarters about noon and protested for roughly 45 minutes until heading back to their schools.

Hundreds of high school students arrive at the Denver Public Schools and Expeditionary building to call for the resignation of board member Tay Anderson on Monday, Sept. 20, 2021. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun)

While students waived signs and shouted slogans, a few from each school stepped inside to meet with school board members and voice their concerns about Anderson.

School board members, including President Carrie Olson and Vice President Jennifer Bacon, listened to students and gathered their input as they work to craft a new code of conduct for board members that will include policies on members’ social media activity. Currently, the board does not have a policy related to conduct for members’ social media posts, Olson told reporters at a media conference after the demonstration.

“We will honor their voices,” Olson said. “We listened and we will act.”

Bacon called on Anderson to help the district move forward at a time students have faced many disruptions to their learning.

Bystanders watch as hundreds of high school students march from Denver North High to Denver Public Schools and Expeditionary building to call for the resignation of board member Tay Anderson on Monday, Sept. 20, 2021. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun)

“We need to do more to make sure that our students feel safe and that board members are held accountable,” Bacon said, adding that every action board members take sends a message to students.

During the protest, DPS officials stood monitoring the demonstration and Denver police blocked off the street. A reporter at the scene did not witness any arrests and the crowd remained peaceful.

The walkout comes three days after DPS board members on Friday censured Anderson, 23, in a 6-1 vote, citing a “disturbing pattern” of inappropriate behavior and intimidation.

The censure capped a six-month investigation begun in April at the school board’s direction. The probe concluded that, after being elected to the board in 2019, Anderson flirted with a 16-year-old student before learning her age and made social media posts during the probe that were intimidating toward witnesses. The allegations that launched the investigation — involving claims of sexual assault — were not substantiated.

Students say they weren’t comforted or satisfied by the report’s findings, with many condemning Anderson in forceful terms.

“It should not take all of us to make him leave,” one student shouted through a megaphone. 

North High School senior Ashley Robinson, who led the walkout, said in a statement that DPS students “feel unsafe” with Anderson on the board.

Students gathered outside of North High School on Monday as they called for Tay Anderson to resign from the Denver Public Schools board. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun)

“​​The only way students will regain any sense of security is if Tay Anderson does the right thing and resigns from his position,” Robinson, 17, wrote in the statement. “The board must make this happen.”

Robinson told The Colorado Sun that she would have concerns about any school board member facing similar allegations, even if those allegations were unsubstantiated.

Students’ concerns and feelings should be a top priority for DPS, which is responsible for students’ safety, Robinson said.

“I think that they need to do a better job of providing that,” she said.

After the demonstration, Robinson was encouraged by being able to help influence the board’s forthcoming code of conduct, but said she was disheartened that Anderson will stay on the board for another two years unless he resigns. Anderson said after his censure he would remain in his post.

She plans to run for student council at North High School and work with the school board “to figure out how we can make things better,” so that students will feel safe and know they can trust the individuals in power.

High school students walk out of Denver North High to call for the resignation of board member Tay Anderson on Monday, Sept. 20, 2021. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun)

Both Robinson and Nivea Mendez, another senior at North High School who participated in the protest, want their younger peers to feel empowered to raise their own voices. They emphasize that student safety needs to come first at school — something Mendez, 17, feels is in jeopardy with Anderson still on the board.

“I would not trust him ever again,” she said.

North High students participating in the protest were marked absent, but their parents could call the school to get the absence excused, said North High assistant principal Amanda Gonzales, one of two school officials who followed the students on their march.

Anderson directed a request for comment about students’ concerns to Tiffany Caudill, his chief of staff, on Monday morning. 

In an emailed statement, Caudill said, “​​Anderson unequivocally supports the First Amendment and the right to protest, he has always been supportive of the voices of our students.”

Anderson has publicly accepted responsibility for flirting with a 16-year-old student but is adamant that he cut off communications with her after he learned her age. He has repeatedly said he has never sexually assaulted anyone, and he characterized his censure as a racist attack, calling it a “lynching.” Anderson rose to prominence during last year’s Black Lives Matter protests in Denver, attracting scrutiny and criticism online, including from Donald Trump Jr.

On Monday evening, Anderson addressed a crowd of reporters and supporters at Brother Jeff’s Cultural Center in Denver, where he reinforced his commitment not to resign and laid out priorities for his next two years in office. He said he would help build an ethnic studies department led by teachers of color and also wants to open up conversations with willing students “to heal the harm caused by everything and my actions and words.”

Anderson, who spoke for less than 15 minutes, apologized to students and acknowledged those who participated in Monday’s walkout.

“I support our students and their constitutional right to protest,” he said, adding that it would be “disingenuous” for him to pretend it wasn’t painful to watch. 

Anderson said he wants to focus on getting back to work for students and creating an environment where all student voices are heard and where they “can feel safe and supported by all sides.”