Tay Anderson to resume Denver school board duties before investigation ends

Denver school board member Tay Anderson, second from left, dressed in a suit and red tie, stands with his head bowed in prayer. He is standing in a circle of supporters holding hands.
Denver school board member Tay Anderson, second from left, prays with supporters before a press conference announcing his return to school board duties. (Erica Meltzer / Chalkbeat)

Denver school board member Tay Anderson is returning to his school board duties before the conclusion of an investigation into anonymous allegations of sexual misconduct, he wrote in a letter posted Wednesday to social media and shared with his board colleagues.

Anderson said his return to work is “effective immediately,” though board meetings do not resume until August. 

In May, Anderson said he would step back from “everyday” school board responsibilities until the outside investigation concluded. In June, Anderson voted on Denver’s new superintendent

In the letter, Anderson said the timeline and scope of the independent investigation have been extended several times, and he could no longer wait for the results. Anderson has repeatedly denied all allegations of sexual assault.

“Although I remain committed to engaging in a transparent and fair process, I can no longer wait for this process to conclude to initiate my return to serving the families of the Denver Public Schools,” Anderson wrote. 

“The independent investigation has bogged down, drifted into new areas, and dragged well past the timeline that was agreed to,” Anderson continued. “No credible evidence has emerged to support any allegations of sexual misconduct by me. I have not been arrested, charged, or even contacted by any law enforcement agency regarding any of these false claims against me. And, more than anything, our DPS community has been fractured by these false allegations, and I am left compelled to try and heal the divisions which this situation has caused.”

At a press conference Wednesday afternoon that lasted almost an hour, Anderson stood flanked by some two dozen supporters and said he was eager to get back to work for the children of Denver, starting with community town halls. He said he intends to serve his full term through 2023.

“We’re not going to wait until the work resumes in August,” he said. “I’m starting my job that I was elected to today.”

Anderson also criticized his fellow school board members for how they responded to the allegations and for allowing him to remain under a cloud of suspicion for many months. Board members have said repeatedly they won’t comment until the investigation is complete. He also criticized journalists for how they reported on allegations, the most serious of which have been anonymous and secondhand.

Anderson said he expects to be cleared and wants the board to send apologies to the entire school community. 

“When we have our board retreat in August, I don’t expect to talk about how we recover from the COVID pandemic first,” he said. “I expect to talk about how we recover from what we just went through this summer, because right now we have students who feel they are afraid of me, we have teachers who feel they are afraid of me, we have principals who feel they are afraid of me. They have painted me as this angry Black man.”

Anderson’s attorney, Chris Decker, questioned the quality of the investigation by describing the firm as better suited to looking into hostile workplaces than potentially criminal conduct. 

“When they say they have trained investigators, they are doing the best they can, but these are investigators from a small private law firm used to doing investigations into workplace environments,” he said. 

Anderson said he was originally told the investigation would take 30 days. However, in announcing the investigation in April, the school board did not put a time frame on it. Nor did they explicitly limit the investigation to one allegation.

A district spokesperson said the board expects the findings from Investigations Law Group “by the end of the summer at the latest.”

Anderson said waiting for the investigation to conclude would force him to forgo board work sessions in August, as well as meetings with the district’s new superintendent, Alex Marrerro, who started work July 6. 

Board President Carrie Olson could not be reached for comment Wednesday evening. However, she sent a letter to Anderson noting that he had supported the decision to launch an independent investigation.

“The board remains committed to the integrity of this independent investigation and to seeing it to its conclusion,” she wrote. “We also remain committed to concluding the investigation before the start of the school year. Our students and our district depend on the ability of this board to move forward effectively to focus on the big issues before us — bringing our students and schools out of the pandemic and driving forward our equity goals.”

In an unsigned statement released earlier Wednesday in response to Anderson’s letter, Denver school board members said they agreed with the importance of completing the investigation. They noted that they are not dictating the pace of the investigation or whether Anderson participates in school board meetings. 

“One of the reasons that the board launched this investigation was because, consistent with our values, we believed a young Black man deserved due process and a fair evaluation of anonymous allegations that were made on social media,” the board wrote. “We hired independent, neutral, and trained investigators to review these claims. Because they are independent, it is not our role to tell them to shut down their investigation early, before they believe they have gathered and reviewed all available evidence.

“It’s also important to note that the board does not have authority to suspend Director Anderson from his duties. Director Anderson voluntarily agreed to step back from his duties during the remainder of the investigation. The board has taken no action that would prevent him from attending and participating in all the board meetings in August.”

The Denver school board hired Investigations Law Group in April after the group Black Lives Matter 5280 said that a woman told group leaders Anderson had sexually assaulted her. The woman has remained anonymous, and Chalkbeat has not been able to independently verify or disprove her claims.

Separately, members of the youth anti-gun violence group Never Again Colorado have said that Anderson made frequent sexual comments and dared them to perform sexualized actions when he was president of the group in 2018. Anderson apologized this spring for inappropriate comments he made to other Never Again members.

Chalkbeat reported that the Denver Classroom Teachers Association received anonymous allegations about Anderson in 2019 related to his time at Never Again. Union leaders said the allegations were “not verifiable,” and they did not investigate them before endorsing Anderson for the school board.

Additionally, Denver parent Mary Katherine Brooks Fleming testified before a legislative committee that a man associated with Denver Public Schools was preying on undocumented girls and young women. She did not name Anderson — though school board members later announced they were aware Anderson was the subject of the allegations.

Brooks Fleming did not provide evidence, and no one has come forward publicly to say that Anderson assaulted them.

Those who wish to provide information for the investigation may write to interviews@ilgdenver.com.

This story has been updated throughout with additional comments and information.

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