Saying that Tay Anderson had violated expectations of board member behavior, the Denver school board voted 6 to 1 Friday to censure him. Anderson voted no.
The censure comes two days after the public release of a 96-page report by outside investigators into allegations against Anderson. The most serious allegation that Anderson sexually assaulted an unnamed woman was not substantiated by investigators. Neither were allegations of sexual misconduct involving Denver Public School students.
However, board members expressed deep disappointment related to allegations that were substantiated, including that Anderson had flirtatious contact with Denver students on social media and made social media posts that could be perceived as intimidating witnesses in the investigation.
The resolution of censure specifically cited those incidents.
Board Vice President Jennifer Bacon noted that she had worked closely with Anderson to improve how the district serves Black students. As a Black woman, she said she was painfully aware both of how Black men have been treated by the justice system and how Black women have been ignored and shunted aside. She spoke directly to Anderson and said she hoped he learned that his behavior was not appropriate for someone in a position of power or in elected office.
“Undoubtedly you have been through the ringer and been treated unfairly in a lot of respects,” she said. “You have not been convicted of a crime. But I hope you learn what is acceptable.
“I do not think you should be removed from the board, but I do think you should be held accountable and know the limits of your behavior.”
Board member Angela Cobián recalled being pursued as a young woman by a man in a position of power in an organization she was involved with and how it made her feel dirty and ashamed. While such behavior is common, the board needed to take a strong stand that it is wrong, she said.
“Regardless of their age, directors are held to a higher standard the moment they decide to run for public office, including at age 19,” she said.
Board President Carrie Olson said the purpose of the censure was not to shame Anderson but to take a stance about what behavior is acceptable by elected officials. She said board members should be held at least to the same standards as district employees.
For his part, Anderson described painful personal attacks he had experienced after being accused of sexual assault, including his mother being confronted in the grocery store and his infant son being threatened “all because of the words of one white woman.” He also read aloud from emails he had received filled with racial slurs, profanity, and violent threats.
“No one sitting in this room understands what it is to walk in the shoes of a Black man in America,” he said.
In defending himself, Anderson focused on the most serious allegations of rape, which were not substantiated, while downplaying the substantiated allegations that other board members found deeply troubling. He said he had apologized and taken responsibility for those actions.
Investigators substantiated claims that Anderson made unwelcome sexual comments, advances, and physical contact with former members of a youth anti-gun violence group called Never Again Colorado, of which Anderson was president in 2018.
They also found Anderson had flirtatious communication with two high school girls while he was a candidate and school board member. The most recent exchange happened last year with a girl who was 16 at the time. Anderson told investigators he didn’t know she was a teenager, and when he found out, he stopped messaging her.
In addition, investigators found that Anderson made two social media posts during the investigation that could have been seen as coercive or intimidating of witnesses.
The Denver school board does not have a policy on censure, a spokesperson said. The last time it was considered was in 2010, when three board members were accused of violating the state’s open meetings law. That censure vote ultimately did not happen.
Anderson, 23, is two years into serving a four-year term on the board.
Anderson pushed back against the censure before the vote.
“This is unprecedented and reeks of anti-Blackness and is rooted in systems that uphold white supremacy,” Anderson wrote in a letter to the board president and vice president Thursday, which he also posted online. He said he hadn’t violated the board’s conduct policy, which mostly prohibits board members from accepting gifts or benefiting financially from their office.
Anderson also questioned if a precedent was being set. He asked if the district would launch an investigation into accusations against any other board member extending “beyond the allegations themselves to also include scrutiny of the director’s behavior as a teenager.”
Just prior to the vote, Olson leaned toward Anderson, who was seated beside her, and reiterated a previous pledge to work with him moving forward. Anderson replied: “I am ready for this censure, and I am ready for us to get back to work for our kids.”
At a press conference before the meeting, Anderson said emphatically that he would not resign.
“I will stay on the board until 2023, and we will finish the work we started in 2019,” he said.
Anderson said the board had never censured a fellow member, including active segregationists who sat on past school boards and questioned why he should be the first. He also was adamant that he would not resign.
Bishop Jerry Demmer of the Greater Metro Denver Ministerial Alliance spoke in support of Anderson.
“Over 60 allegations and not one of them had any basis,” Demmer said. “It is an issue where there is one Black man on the school board, and everyone is together against him.”
This is a developing story and will be updated.