Story by Melanie Asmar, Chalkbeat Colorado
In a long-awaited report, a third-party investigator found that the most serious sexual misconduct allegations against Denver school board member Tay Anderson were not substantiated, but found enough to prompt a board vote on censuring him.
Denver-based Investigations Law Group concluded as unsubstantiated claims Anderson, 23, had sexually assaulted an unnamed woman, whose allegations were made public by the civil rights organization Black Lives Matter 5280 in March, according to the firm’s 96-page report.
However, the firm substantiated most allegations that Anderson had made “unwelcome sexual comments and advances” and “engaged in unwelcome sexual contact” toward members of a youth anti-gun violence group called Never Again Colorado, of which he was president in 2018.
The behavior was not connected to Denver Public Schools; the report notes that it took place off district property with non-Denver students. Anderson was not a district employee nor a school board member at the time. He was elected more than a year later, in November 2019.
But the firm substantiated that Anderson had “flirtatious social media contact” with a 16-year-old Denver Public Schools student while he was a board member. It also substantiated that he made two social media posts that were coercive and intimidating toward witnesses during the investigation, which the board commissioned in April.
Not substantiated were claims by a Denver woman in May that Anderson committed sexual assault or misconduct against 62 Denver Public Schools students. The firm also did not find that Anderson committed misconduct while he was employed in a support role at Denver’s North High School or Manual High School, his alma mater, before he was elected.
Investigations Law Group used a “preponderance of evidence” standard, which it explained in the report means that an allegation is substantiated if it is more likely than not to be true.
The board said in a statement that it would consider a censure against Anderson on Friday and that it would have no further comment until then. Board members cannot remove a fellow member, given that the board is elected by voters. But the board can censure or reprimand a fellow member or remove that member from board committees.
“The most grievous accusations were not substantiated and the board is grateful for that,” the board’s statement says. “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. Director Anderson’s behavior does not meet those standards.”
In a tweet that featured the words “let’s get back to work!” Anderson issued a statement emphasizing his cooperation with the investigation and expressing hope for a time of community healing.
“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 victory 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,” the statement said.
Anderson is serving a four-year term on the school board. He is a Denver Public Schools graduate and has long been an activist, leading protests against racism and police brutality, which has made him a target of conservatives.
The other six board members received the results of the investigation Monday. Anderson got them Tuesday, a day before they were publicly released.
The accusations against Anderson hung over the work of the Denver school board during a time when district officials were grappling with bringing students back to school after a year of mostly remote learning and hiring a new superintendent.
Two invoices show that Investigations Law Group has billed Denver Public Schools at least $105,449 for its work.
Chalkbeat is a nonprofit news site covering educational change in public schools.