More than 200 students at North High school in Denver staged a walkout protest Monday, calling for embattled Denver Public Schools Board of Education Director Tay Anderson to resign after a district investigation didn't substantiate Anderson committing allegations of sexual assault but found he made "unbecoming" comments to minors.
The protest kicked off around 10 a.m. with students holding signs calling for Anderson's resignation. They marched across Speer Boulevard to a small park and made speeches supporting sexual assault victims before leaving the park to march on downtown Denver, where they rallied in front of the district's headquarters at 1860 Lincoln St., the Emily Griffith Campus building. Police officers blocked traffic to allow the march, and North Assistant Principal Amanda Gonzales followed the students along the march, along with many DPS security officials and other school officials.
The students were led by seniors Mark Semien and Ashley Robinson, who addressed the crowd of students in the park across the street from North High.
"We want to send our board the message that this man is to be taken off," Robinson yelled through a megaphone. "Tay Anderson is not fit to be a board member. Who agrees?"
The students erupted in to cheers and chants of "Hey hey, ho ho, Tay Anderson has got to go."
"This is not unjust or unfair. This is not a high-tech lynching," said Semien. "Tay Anderson must be held accountable for his actions."
Student Destinee McLeain told the crowd she's a sexual assault survivor and knows the trauma of survivors facing perpetrators in positions of power.
"Tay Anderson needs to resign," McLeain said. "It's not OK that someone can be accused of sexual assault on a teen and still be on the board. He needs to be off the board. Period."
McLeain said afterwards she didn't have faith in the district investigation and was disappointed in the lack of action. She said it wasn't a race issue or political issue.
"I'll always believe the victim first," she said. None of the alleged victims spoke publicly or with investigators.
According to a district spokesman, the censure vote was the extent of the punishment the board could inflict. The spokesman added a recall election was possible, though in the hands of the voters.
The students marched downtown with signs that read "Faculty Shouldn't Flirt with Our Friends" and carried obscenities alleging Anderson is a pedophile.
The walkout comes after the board on Friday voted 6-1 to censure Anderson, who was the sole opposing vote.
The probe, conducted by Investigations Law Group, could not substantiate allegations of sexual assault brought forward by Black Lives Matter 5280 and Mary-Katherine Brooks Fleming, a parent in the district. Investigators also didn't corroborate alleged sexual misconduct by Anderson while he worked at Manual and North high schools.
The probe did find Anderson “engaged flirtatiously” with a 16-year-old student and made social media posts that could be viewed as attempts to intimidate witnesses participating in the probe.
That wasn’t the only case of “flirtatious” communication with a student. In 2018, Anderson was running for his board seat when he began communicating with a 17-year-old high school girl from Douglas County, the probe alleged. Anderson was 20 at the time.
The report also corroborated that Anderson likely engaged in “some unwelcome sexual commentary, some unwelcome sexual advances and physical contact” toward the Never Again Colorado Board of Directors and their associates while he was that organization’s president in 2018. Investigators also highlighted a pair of social media posts they believed were attempts to intimidate witnesses.
In a statement released on Twitter, Anderson said he "unequivocally supports the First Amendment and the right to protest."
The statement goes on to note, the ILG report did not substantiate allegations of sexual assault and that he cut off contact with the 16-year-old student once he became aware of her age. That reiterates points he made during the censure hearing, where he also attempted to explains the context around the social media posts, which he said were not an intimidation effort.
At that hearing, he said pledged to remain on the board resign and compared his treatment to a modern-day lynching, saying the probe exceeded its intended scope and drawing parallels to Emmett Till, a Black murdered in Mississippi in 1955 after being accused of offending a white woman in her family's grocery store.
The statement released Monday also took shots at the board and the media, which he said "perpetuated false narratives... resulting in our students feeling unsafe."
A district spokesman said officials knew of the planned protest and worked with school leaders to ensure student safety.
The principal at George Washington High School notified parents many students there also rallied, and about 30 joined the North students downtown.
"... we are not able to prevent those students who wish to leave campus to protest from doing so and absences for students who leave the building without parent and/or school permission are unexcused," the email from Washington's Principal Kristin Waters stated. "Approximately 30 students did leave campus to join their peers downtown, and the remainder of students returned to class at the start of 3rd period at 10:35am."
The group of chanting students reached the district headquarters building about 11:45 a.m. after marching the 16th Street Mall from Union Station. Lincoln Street was closed in front of the building by police as the group of protesters spilled into the road.
The protest continued until about 1 p.m., when the crowd dispersed.
Board of Education President Carrie Olson and Vice President Jennifer Bacon said in a Monday afternoon press conference they heard the students loud and clear.
"Students from across the district today told us, there has not been enough action to prevent to protect their safety and to send the message that this behavior by a board member is unacceptable," Olson said. "They told us today that they are embarrassed and disappointed to see Director Anderson responding to censure by continuing to disparage and attack anyone who was concerned about his behavior towards students."
The board is drawing up a code of conduct for board members, which include guidelines for social media use.
"This would clearly spell out the high standards of behavior for elected public board members to help ensure we're upholding the public trust and showing leadership and creating a safe and welcoming school for our students and their families and our staff," Olson said.
"As demonstrated today, this issue has been a major disruption for district priorities, our schools, and to students learning for far too long," said Bacon. "From our students actions to Director Anderson's actions, today is the loudest and clearest example of that."
Both said they will work with Anderson on that code.
"We're calling on Director Anderson to be a part of moving us forward and stopping the disruption to our students' education," Bacon said.
Anderson said he will again address his future on the board in a speech scheduled for 6 p.m.