DENVER -- An independent report into sexual misconduct allegations levied against Denver Public Schools board member Tay Anderson found the most serious allegations were not substantiated but that Anderson had “flirtatious social media contact” with a 16-year-old DPS student while he was a board member and made coercive and intimidating social media posts toward witnesses.
The Denver Public Schools Board of Education will consider censuring Anderson at a board meeting on Friday, saying that the report “reveals behavior unbecoming of a board member.”
“The Board strongly believes the investigation treated Director Anderson fairly. The most grievous accusations were not substantiated and the Board is grateful for that. However, the report reveals behavior unbecoming of a board member. As elected officials, we must hold ourselves and each other to the highest standards in carrying out the best interests of the District,” the board said in a statement provided by DPS spokesperson Will Jones.
“Director Anderson’s behavior does not meet those standards. The Board will hold a Board meeting to consider a censure of Director Anderson on 1pm on Friday, September 17. Until then, individual Board members will not discuss their personal deliberations or the contents of this report.”
Investigative Law Group, based in Denver, conducted the investigation, and the school board released the 96-page report to the public on Wednesday. It was delivered to the DPS board’s attorneys on Monday, according to district spokesperson Will Jones. Anderson was able to see the report on Tuesday.
The report was partially redacted before public release to hide students' identities.
The report looked at five different allegations:
· Whether Anderson committed sexual assault against an anonymous woman in allegations levied by BLM 5280 in March;
· Whether Anderson made unwelcome sexual comments and advances toward people of the Never-Again Colorado Board of Directors;
· Whether Anderson committed sexual or other misconduct while working at Manual or North high schools;
· Whether Anderson sexually assaulted or committed sexual misconduct against dozens of students, as alleged during a legislative hearing this year;
· Whether Anderson committed sexual misconduct or intimidated or coerced witnesses while running for or being a member of the school board.
It found the first, third, and fourth allegations to be unsubstantiated, and also found that had made sexual comments and advances toward the Never-Again Colorado Board of Directors, but that there was no connection to Denver Public Schools.
The report also found that “Anderson had a flirtatious social media contact with a 16-year-old DPS student while a Board member” and that he made “two social media posts during the investigation that were coercive and intimidating toward witnesses.” However, the report says it was not substantiated that Anderson “directed or condoned others’ coercive or intimidating behaviors toward witnesses.”
Anderson said in a statement that he would discuss the report in a press conference in coming days and once he further reviews the report.
“I believe the most important message that can be conveyed at this time is that the finding of unsubstantiated claims against me is in no way a victor over survivors, but rather an opportunity to reconsider how we view and create not only restorative, but also transformative justice, for survivors, falsely accused, and correctly convicted,” he said in a statement posted to Twitter.
“Today the hope is that our community can begin the process of healing we’ve so desperately longer for,” Anderson added.
Statement from Denver School Board Director Tay Anderson:— Tay Anderson (@TayAndersonCO) September 15, 2021
Let’s get back to work! pic.twitter.com/fleEhewZ4W
The investigators interviewed 63 people as part of the investigation, the report says, and Anderson met with investigators twice and “answered every question we posed” both in-person and in writing, according to the report.
“Director Anderson did not refuse to answer any question. He likewise responded to every request for information that we made. He was cooperative in this process,” the report states.
The investigators wrote that their report does not express an opinion about the truthfulness of allegations.
“We know from our experience in this area that complainants in sexual harassment and assault cases are frequently afraid to come forward,” they wrote. “That said, a legitimate investigation must stand on credible material evidence and cannot rest on second-hand allegations alone. Our findings here are based on material credible evidence.”
Anderson stepped away from his role in June after anonymous allegations of sexual misconduct arose against him in the spring. He returned to his duties in mid-July and had always claimed that the allegations were false. In March, the group Black Lives Matter 5280 said a woman claimed in February that Anderson sexually assaulted her, which Anderson denied.
In May, a woman testified before a legislative committee about a sexual predator within the school system who has targeted students, though the school board said at the time no one had reported such allegations to police. Anderson denied the allegations against him throughout the past several months.
The report found that Anderson had been talking on social media with a young woman in high school while he was a board candidate, and another while he was on the board, though only the former spoke to investigators.
“Anderson has maintained and developed relationships with students, both while running for and while seated on the Board of Education. He has used social media as one tool to do this. Given his role as a School Board member, and the important mentorship and role modeling part of the job, such communications are not, in and of themselves, inappropriate,” the report states. “However, we found two instances of communication with high school girls that were objectively flirtatious. These situations could tend to support the allegation of behavior outside the expectations of integrity and high ethical standards expected of a School Board member.”
The girl who spoke with investigators said they started talking in 2018 when she was 17 and a senior at a school in Douglas County. She told investigators he would ask her to go on dates but that she never hung out with him in private. She said she was thankful for that because he made her “feel extremely uncomfortable and scared to go places in the case I would see him.”
The investigators found Anderson had acknowledged he was flirting with her, but he told them he believed she was a high school graduate.
The investigation also uncovered more flirtatious messages from August 2020 between Anderson and a DPS student who was 16 at the time, which Anderson told investigators was “a mistake.”
“I messaged somebody who was a teenager, and I didn’t know at the time their age,” he told investigators, according to the report. “[W]e communicated probably for two days, and then after I learned their age, I just stopped communicating with them.”
Later on, according to the report, he found out the girl’s age.
“And I was like, whoa, that was a mistake on my end. I stopped communicating with that individual immediately after I found out that they were younger than I was,” he told investigators, according to the report.
The intimidation came when Anderson made his Facebook cover photo a picture of Bugs Bunny, with a gun held against his chest, which is captioned with, “Do it bitch.” The report says he put that photo up one day after the allegations were made at the legislative hearing. Two people reported that they felt the post was “meant to intimidate women who might come forward in response to the testimony,” according to the report.
But Anderson told investigators it “had no sort of innuendo about target taunting or targeting, you know, anybody on social media.”
Further, at least one school board member reported to the investigators that a July 7 post in which Anderson talked about a “warning” to people who have been “disparaging my name” was a threat Anderson would “engage in punishing behavior” against those who have spoken out about the allegations.
However, the report goes on to state there is “no evidence of sexual contact between candidate/Director Anderson and students he was messaging with” and “no evidence that Director Anderson directed social media activities of others.”
Regarding the accusations levied at the legislative hearing, the report says that the allegations were “objectively implausible on their face.”
In its conclusion, the investigation found that the exchange with the 16-year-old “more likely than not was intended as flirtatious” but also that “there is no evidence that he purposefully sought out a connection with someone who is underage or who is a DPS student.”
“That said, the fact that he got himself into this conversation without knowing her age, or where she went to school, could reasonably create concern. … It was (and is) his obligation as a person in a position of power in the District, to act in the best interests of the DPS community and to navigate relationships with students appropriately,” the investigators wrote in the conclusion.
The investigators found in their conclusion that “most of the reported behaviors do not implicate integrity, high ethical standards, respectful conduct and a commitment to support the United States and Colorado constitutions.”
“The two exceptions are the communications with the 16-year-old DPS student that happened in July and August 2020, and the online Bugs Bunny and 'warning' posts. For the reasons stated above, the allegation is Substantiated.”
The Denver Classroom Teachers Association said in a statement that it doesn't "celebrate anything in this situation," but that it's pleased the independent investigation reaching a conclusion.
“We support anybody who comes forward with any allegations of misconduct. The safety of our students, families and educators are paramount in anything we do and we have thoroughly supported the decision to investigate all allegations against Director Anderson," said Rob Gould, special education teacher and president of the DCTA. "It is now our hope that the Denver Public Schools School Board can continue their important work. We remain committed to advocating for safe and exceptional public schools for all students, no matter the zip code in which they live.”
Denver7's Russell Haythorn contributed to this report.