At last Thursday’s Denver Public Schools protest, the district’s apparent focus on PR backfired.
Organized by 18-year-old Gigi Gordon, a 2021 North High School graduate, the protest was held to express two demands of the DPS board. In unscripted testimony following the protest, Gigi summarized those demands.
“We want new diplomas without Tay Anderson’s name on them, and we want to feel like we are being heard by the district,” she testified. “We just want to feel like the district cares about us and like they actually care what happens to their students that they’re working for. We just ask that DPS releases a statement encouraging Tay to resign from his position.”
Just before the protest, the district released a lengthy statement about the event. Simultaneously, the DPS Title IX department was setting up a booth at the protest. Their intent was to provide information on the district’s process for reporting and handling sexual assault. Neither the statement nor the booth went over well with some protesters.
“I thought their idea was nice,” Gigi told me on KNUS radio Saturday. “[But] they said they were there to listen and to learn and to hear from the students, but they show up with these glossy fliers and it says ‘Denver Communications’ on their big table. It threw people off. And we had somebody text us and say, ‘Hey, are you protesting for DPS or against? I’m kind-of confused.’”
Having attended the protest myself, I understand the confusion. Surely, DPS thought they’d look good handing out fliers while giving the impression they were taking the protest seriously. Yet how the district believed a booth with a tablecloth blaring “DPS Communications” wasn’t going to be off-putting or intimidating is hard to fathom.
“It was honestly just a little bit weird,” Gigi said. “Because if they wanted to come and listen like they should have to what the students have to say and the students’ concerns and what they can do to make it better, they could have just showed up. But they showed up with this table and they make it a whole thing for PR to make themselves look good. That’s what it felt like.”
DPS isn’t the only educational institution in Denver to suffer a black eye lately. Last week, the Denver Classroom Teachers Association admitted they knew about allegations of sexual assault regarding Anderson when he ran for school board in 2019.
The allegations came in the form of a letter from an anonymous member of Never Again Colorado, the now-defunct, youth-run gun control group once led by Anderson in 2019. The union says they could not identify the author or verify her accusations. Then-school board candidate Radhika Nath, who ran in southeast Denver, claims union leaders attempted to recruit her to switch to at-large instead of Anderson due to the allegations.
Nath declined and says she reached out to Anderson about the letter, with no response. In April, six allegations of sexual harassment concerning Anderson’s time at Never Again Colorado came out, adding weight to the 2019 letter. Despite those allegations, a sexual assault accusation through BLM5280 and the 62 allegations involving students, DCTA has remained silent.
The union’s silence is deafening. One has to wonder why DPS and DCTA would handle this so poorly. Perhaps it’s because they’ve invested a lot of money in Anderson, according to TRACER records.
The union’s Public Education Committee contributed $3,750 and $10,000 to Anderson’s campaign on Sept. 27 and Oct. 3 of 2019, respectively. Likewise, the DCTA Fund made non-monetary contributions of $10,000 on Sept. 24 and $1,250 on Sept. 25. Just two weeks before election day (Oct. 23), the DCTA Fund donated $38,750 in addition to a previous $1,250 contribution. (Coincidentally, on Oct. 25, incumbent DPS board member Scott Baldermann also made a sizable $10,000 personal contribution.)
The DCTA Fund and Baldermann donations are noteworthy given their timing. Both just so happened to swoop in right before the election. Anderson’s October 28, 2019, campaign finance report showed $64,235.05 in cash-on-hand, including the DCTA Fund donation. He raised $11,723.06 in the subsequent period, $10,000 of which was from Balderman. Anderson’s campaign spent $46,426.97 in that period and retained $29,531.87.
Records indicate the union gave its previous at-large endorsee, Robert Speth, a fraction of that amount in his 2017 race.
Clearly, DCTA and Balderman alike were heavily invested in Anderson’s success and covered his homestretch campaign costs. Are we to believe their silence and mishandling today are pure coincidence?
Since March, the unending saga of sexual abuse allegations concerning Anderson has distracted from preexisting academic problems amplified during the pandemic. Schools were open elsewhere in the country with no noticeably higher incidence of infection.
Yet DPS — at the urging of the union — kept schools closed. DPS students essentially — and inexcusably — lost a year’s worth of learning. Now, students, teachers, administrators and the board are focused on this.
Whether it’s their ceaseless distraction named Tay Anderson or their educational failures, no amount of PR money, efforts or protest booths can hide Denver’s intrinsic problems.