Denver Public Schools’ Board of Education voted to censure one of its members, Tay Anderson, on Friday following an investigation released this week that found he flirted online with a 16-year-old student before knowing her age and made coercive and intimidating social media posts.
But the six-month, third-party investigation initiated by the school board did not substantiate any of the anonymous claims of sexual assault levied against Anderson.
Just before the board met to vote, Anderson shot back in a fiery news conference with an NAACP representative and local ministers, calling his treatment a “high-tech lynching,” a phrase used by Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas during his confirmation hearings 30 years ago.
He then delivered a passionate defense of his actions during the special meeting, reading from a statement he’d posted online that invoked white supremacy, lynching and vile threats made against him and his family since sexual assault allegations first surfaced this spring.
“On March 26, 2021, false allegations led to my life changing forever,” Anderson said during the meeting. “That was the day I became known as a rapist to our community. Does anyone listening know how that feels? To know you didn’t commit an act you’re being accused of, but having people believe it and call for your career, your freedom and your life to be over.”
Friday’s special meeting marked the first time school board members spoke publicly about the investigation and Anderson’s actions. One by one they denounced his conduct, voting 6-1 — Anderson cast the lone no vote — to censure, or publicly reprimand, their colleague for what they’ve called “behavior unbecoming of a board member.”
“To the young women who participated in this investigation, who are watching right now to see if your experiences and stories mattered to us: They do. And you do,” board member Rev. Bradley Laurvick said. “I hear you. I see you. I believe you.”
Board member Jennifer Bacon spoke in raw terms about being the only other Black school board member, and how she and Anderson are “inextricably linked” because of the color of their skin.
“White supremacy is real,” Bacon said. “But some of us can only take people so far. And we also need to recognize that personal actions need to be held accountable, too.”
Angela Cobián, another board member, said Anderson’s actions do not “merit a seat on this board,” adding that she hoped he “reconsiders his position as (the board’s) secretary.”
The 23-year-old vowed to remain on the school board.
“I will not resign,” Anderson said at the news conference before the vote. “Let me say that one more time — I will not resign.”
After Anderson concluded his remarks during the meeting, board member Barbara O’Brien said she “hoped this would be a bit more of an opportunity for introspection, but apparently it’s not going to be.”
At his pre-meeting news conference, Anderson gathered a collection of Black leaders who lambasted his treatment in explicitly racial terms.
Dr. Tony Bradley, representing the NAACP chapter for Colorado, Montana and Wyoming, said that the organization was “deeply troubled” by the censure vote and it opens up the school board to a civil rights inquiry.
Bishop Jerry Demmer, president of the Greater Metro Denver Ministerial Alliance, called the investigation a “witch hunt.”
“… When you can’t find something to go your way, you come up with a lot of false allegations,” he said during the news conference.
As Anderson stepped to the podium Friday, he was met by a protester shouting through a megaphone, “Tay Anderson is not a victim,” and calling for his resignation.
Anderson has remained defiant in proclaiming his innocence in the face of the allegations that first surfaced in March that he had sexually assaulted an anonymous woman.
“My body has hung from a tree long enough,” he tweeted before Friday’s censure vote, “let’s get today over with.”
He opened his remarks to the board Friday by referring to a DPS parent — who in May alleged before a state legislative committee that Anderson committed rape, sexual assault or sexual misconduct against 62 students — as “my Carolyn Bryant.” (Bryant admitted to lying about allegations she made against a 14-year-old Black boy named Emmett Till, whose horrific 1955 lynching in Mississippi helped spark the Civil Rights Movement.)
In his speech to the school board, Anderson said the censure “raises questions about the precedent being set for future DPS board actions and parameters around potential future investigations.”
“This is unprecedented and reeks of anti-Blackness and is rooted in systems that uphold white supremacy,” Anderson wrote in a blog post published Thursday.
The 96-page investigative report released Wednesday found the anonymous woman’s sexual assault accusation made in March through Black Lives Matter 5280 was not substantiated, nor were the allegations from the DPS parent, Mary-Katherine Brooks Fleming. The investigators reported that Brooks Fleming also was involved in bringing the initial woman’s allegation forward through BLM 5280.
Investigators did find, however, that Anderson used his political influence to make unwelcome sexual comments, advances and contact toward female students affiliated with a student-led gun control group that he co-founded three years ago.
Anderson, the report said, admitted to most of those allegations and apologized.
In addition, the report found that Anderson was “coercive and intimidating toward witnesses” and had inappropriate social media contact with a 16-year-old student while serving on the school board. He ended that contact upon learning her age, the report said.
The investigation hung over the school board for months as it dragged through summer and into the beginning of the school year.
Anderson stepped away from his school board duties for seven weeks in late May, but later resumed his work.
During that period, Anderson opened up about contemplating taking his own life.
He has two years left on his school board term that ends in 2023.