On Monday, something truly inspiring happened: An estimated 1,000+ students in Denver Public Schools made their voices heard. They led a mass walkout protesting school board member Tay Anderson and the school board.
The students’ objective was twofold: (1) to demand Anderson’s resignation for both unsubstantiated and substantiated allegations against him; and (2) to protest his board colleagues’ failure to protect them, as they see it.
I arrived outside Denver North High School minutes before 10 a.m., in time to watch hundreds of students walk out. With school administration supervising the protest to ensure safety, students crossed the street to the park.
The teenagers held signs labeled, “Faculty Shouldn’t Flirt with Friends” and “We Deserve to Feel Like We Are Safe.” Other signs made ample use of the F-word, illustrating their immense frustration.
“If you are meant to be on the school board, you are meant to protect us and serve us, not take advantage of us,” one boy declared. “Everyone has a voice. This is our home and we have to protect ourselves.”
I followed the North students as most of them continued to DPS headquarters downtown and captured significant video. It was a 45-minute walk. The school’s principal, Scott Wolf, led the students to the building — again, ensuring safety — while walkers chanted such slogans as, “Hey hey, ho ho, Tay Anderson has got to go!” and “Away with Tay!”
Police cordoned off the streets as the young people marched downtown. “Who are we? Students! What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now!”
Some walkers told me they’d attended past protests where Anderson spoke. He’s sometimes shouted similar slogans. Ironic, isn’t it, that the protest skills and proclamations they learned from Tay Anderson would be returned in taking a stand against him?
When we arrived outside the Emily Griffith building, there were already numerous students from other schools — South, East and George Washington high schools among them. The atmosphere was electric. The passion was palpable.
The crowd was racially diverse — Black, White, Hispanic, Asian — directly contradicting Anderson’s cries of “anti-Blackness.” As students of all races kept telling me, this was about students.
“Look at all of these ethnics that are standing here. This is nothing but – I mean, it’s all about support for the victims. It has nothing to do with race,” North senior Destinee Mcleain, a 17-year-old Black woman, told me.
Rather, DPS students feel “unsafe.” They worry about Anderson’s so-called “flirtatious” and “coercive” messages with minors and his acts of intimidation, both of which were substantiated in DPS’s report. Even more, they see adults abandoning children to fight for themselves.
“It’s kind of pathetic,” DPS student Rachel told me. “Why do we have to be the ones who have to bring attention to this? Why aren’t the adults?”
A brand-new petition was announced to “remove Tay Anderson from the board.” As of deadline Monday night, it already neared 1,000 signatures.
In a speech, Anderson ignored DPS students’ cries. Instead, he offered self-centered, lofty language.
Anderson claimed he ran for the school board “to elevate student voice” and “welcome(s) any opportunity to hear (students’) concerns.” He insisted voters elected him “to give an authentic, true voice to our students — not one that was far removed from the classroom.”
His words ring hollow. He isn’t listening.
“The time for reflection has passed,” Anderson defiantly declared. “It is now time to get back to work for the students of Denver Public Schools.”
Has Tay Anderson actually spent any time reflecting on his own actions? Moreover, “hearing the students” necessarily requires reflection.
“I had hoped that I would be able to stand before you today with the sole focus of moving forward,” he said. “However, I have to acknowledge the students who chose to walk out of school today. I want to make it clear: I support our students and their constitutional right to protest. However, it would be disingenuous for me to pretend as though it wasn’t painful to watch.”
Read: I support your right to protest, but I’m not going to listen or respond to what you’re saying. Instead, feel MY pain. Because it’s Tay’s district; students are just living in it.
“Tay’s saying we’re the ones hurting him for trying to hold him accountable,” Denver North’s walkout organizer, 17-year-old Ashley Robinson, scoffed. “DPS has proven to us that Tay isn’t in a position to regain trust, and its students stand by that as well.”
Meanwhile, board President Carrie Olson and Vice President Jennifer Bacon feigned concern in a press conference. Anderson’s enablers touted “high standards of behavior for elected public board members” and pleaded with Anderson to “not provoke and disparage anyone who has concerns with his behavior.”
When the only outcome from a $105,000-plus investigation that finds Anderson guilty of “behavior unbecoming a board member” was simple censure — not removal as board secretary, let alone demanding his resignation — what would possibly make them believe such things matter to Tay Anderson?
Olson — who on Friday publicly told Anderson she does NOT think he needs to resign — insisted she wants to improve the code of conduct for board members. Mcleain wasn’t buying any of it.
“You’re disgracing the students, you’re disgracing the victims,” she said of the feckless board. “If this was — if anything like this would take place in the future, they’re already showing how they would handle it.”
Kudos to the kids. They know what’s up with Tay Anderson, and it’s past time the adults listen — and protect them.