DENVER – Hundreds of Denver students walked out of class Monday to call on embattled Denver Public Schools board director Tay Anderson to resign after an independent report into sexual misconduct allegations found he had flirtatious social media contact with a DPS student and made coercive and intimidating social media posts toward witnesses in the past.
Chanting “Hey hey, ho ho, Tay Anderson has got to go!” “Step down Tay!” “Tay, Tay, stay away!” among other profanity-laden chants, hundreds of students from North, East, South and George Washington High School walked out and protested outside school grounds at around 10 a.m.
Less than an hour into those walkouts, students from North High began marching toward Denver Public Schools headquarters, where they were joined by students from the other high schools by about noon.
The crowd got so big, students spilled onto the streets and the Denver Police Department had to block off the road at that section of Lincoln Street to keep the students safe.
“If you think about our brothers and sisters too, you don’t know if they’re like this with them. That’s disgusting,” said one female student at the protest, referring to the report’s findings that Anderson exchanged flirtatious messages with an underage DPS student that he said he stopped once he found out the student’s age. “So that’s why we’re here protesting, ‘cause that sh-t’s not okay.”
Other female students Denver7 spoke with outside DPS headquarters made a reference to the dozens of sexual assault allegations levied against him, though the independent report found those allegations to be “objectively implausible on their face.”
“He shouldn’t be on the board. Sixty-two plus allegations and he’s still on the school board. He shouldn’t be on the board. He needs to step down,” said one of the students at the protest.
Male students felt the same way.
“Even without the evidence, I still think he should be suspended from working for the time being,” said one male student at the protest. “I really hope that DPS learns a lesson from this and even if there’s no evidence as of right now to convict him, he shouldn’t be in office ‘cause it feels wrong.”
Anderson responded to the protests by releasing a statement via Twitter as the walkouts were underway. In it, he said he “unequivocally supports the first amendment and the right to protest” and added he “has always been supportive of the voices of our students."
Director Anderson releases this statement in response to the walk-outs this morning.— Tay Anderson (@TayAndersonCO) September 20, 2021
He will address the district tonight at 6:00 PM. pic.twitter.com/rrNkHseKmX
He said he would be addressing the district Monday at 6 p.m., though an announcement of a potential resignation is unlikely, as he’s gone on record to say he would stay on the board until 2023.
Though the investigation found the most serious allegations against Anderson were not substantiated, the findings were troubling enough that the Denver Public Schools Board of Education voted Friday to censure him, saying his actions did not meet “the highest ethical standards of the Board” with Board Vice President Jennifer Bacon saying she did not think Anderson needed to be removed from the board, but rather “to be held accountable and know the boundaries” of his behavior.
A letter sent to South High School parents said that not all students from the school participated in Monday’s walkout and that those who walked out and protested outside DPS headquarters were accompanied by members of the South High leadership team to make sure students were safe. Students that chose to participate will be marked absent from any classes they miss, the letter read.
North High School Principal Scott Wolff sent a similar letter to the community later Monday, saying that about 200 students from North High participated in the walkout and protests. Students there were marked absent if they were not in class, and added they would only be excused if families contact the school's attendance secretary.
The principal of George Washington High School also sent a letter to parents, saying about 200 of their students walked out and 30 of those left to protest along hundreds of others from different schools outside DPS headquarters. Principal Kristin Waters said absences without parent and/or school permission would be unexcused.
During a Monday afternoon news conference, Denver Public Schools Board of Education President Dr. Carrie Olson and Vice President Jennifer Bacon addressed the walkouts and the protests outside DPS headquarters.
"Our students from across the district today told us there has not been enough action to protect the safety (of students) and to send the message that this behavior by a board member is unacceptable," Olson said, adding students made it clear they were "embarrassed and disappointed" to see how Anderson was responding to Friday's censure vote.
Due to Monday's walkouts and protests, Olson said students' voices were going to be included in the Code of Conduct for DPS board members, to "clearly spell out" the high standards of behavior for elected officials.
"A major part of this Code of Conduct will also be strict policies about board members' social media communications, and the Code of Conduct will also place clear protocols and consequences for misconduct to help ensure accountability," she added. "We listened and we will act."
Vice President Jennifer Bacon, from her part, said the message from students came through loud and clear, but added Monday's walkouts and protests had been "a major disruption" to the district's priorities to continue in-person learning as the coronavirus pandemic continues to cast a shadow across classrooms.
"We need there to be no more disruptions to the precious learning time and board responsibilities that we have," Bacon said. "In order for that to happen, as our students told us today, there needs to be more action and more accountability. We hope Director Anderson will help in that process and not provoke and disparage anyone who has concerns with his behavior. ... We're calling on Director Anderson to be a part of moving us forward in stopping the disruption to our student's education."
The Board of Education does not have the authority to remove one of its members from their position, as that's an elected position that residents vote on, so it's up to Anderson himself to render his resignation or for voters to decide if they want to keep him in that position in the future, Olson said during the media briefing.
"Until then, we want to get back to the work of Denver Public Schools," she said.
In closing remarks, Olson urged anyone experiencing trauma about the conversations that were had in connection to the protests to reach out to Blue Bench, an organization that offers a 24-hour sexual assault hotline at (303) 322-7273.