The Denver teachers union was aware of a sexual misconduct allegation against Tay Anderson prior to endorsing him for a seat on the school board in 2019 and approached another candidate to run in that race, according to two people involved in the discussions.
The unverified allegation surfaced while the union’s political arm, the Denver Classroom Teachers Association Fund, was vetting candidates and deciding who to back, said Priscilla Shaw, a middle school music teacher involved in the endorsement process that year.
Anderson, who won election to the school board in 2019, has been under investigation by a private firm hired by Denver Public Schools since April following an anonymous accusation of sexual assault. He has denied all allegations.
Radhika Nath, who was approached to run as a potential opponent to Anderson in the at-large race in 2019, said she met with a DCTA political operative who told her about the sexual misconduct allegation and who shared concerns it would become public. Nath ultimately chose to run for the seat in her district.
“I never thought that DCTA would endorse him because of the allegations and the fact they were sharing that information. And they spent a lot of time trying to get me to run at-large,” Nath told The Denver Post in an interview.
In a statement, Rob Gould, president of DCTA, acknowledged “we did receive anonymous information during the candidate endorsement recommendation process about Mr. Anderson that was not verifiable.” However, he contested the notion that Nath was asked to run against Anderson because of the allegation.
“The assertion that we asked Ms. Nath to switch races because of any allegations against Mr. Anderson is not true,” Gould said in a statement. “Early on in the process, as is always the case, multiple people can be sought out and can come forward as potential candidates for endorsement. DCTA was looking at all options. After navigating the endorsement process and receiving member input, Mr. Anderson is who we ultimately recommended.”
Neither Anderson nor his lawyer, Christopher Decker, could be reached for comment Wednesday evening. In a statement to Chalkbeat Colorado, which first reported the DCTA allegation, Decker said, “That is not accurate and I do not believe there will be any evidence (contemporary in time) to support that.”
Anderson already is under investigation by Denver Public Schools after Black Lives Matter 5280 reported in late March that a woman had confided in them that she was sexually assaulted by Anderson. An outside law firm was hired to investigate the accusation and that work is ongoing. Anderson denied that allegation in a news conference with Decker at his side.
On May 25, Mary-Katherine Brooks Fleming, who has three children enrolled in DPS, testified before a state legislative committee that a sexual predator was targeting students, but she did not name the person.
Days later, the school district confirmed Brooks Fleming was speaking about Anderson and the Denver Police Department said it was aware of Brooks Fleming’s testimony, but no victims had come forward. On Wednesday, the department told The Post that it had no new information.
Anderson late last month announced he would step back from his role on the school board while the investigation is underway.
After Black Lives Matter 5280 posted a statement about Anderson’s alleged sexual assault, women who participated in the youth-led, anti-gun organization Never Again Colorado with Anderson in 2018 told The Post they witnessed sexual misconduct from him that ranged from unwanted touching to unwelcome sexual advances.
Anderson has since apologized for making anyone feel uncomfortable. He continues to deny all sexual assault allegations, and thus far, no victims have come forward publicly.
Not a “viable” candidate
Nath, a DPS parent who ran unsuccessfully for the school board’s District 1 seat in 2019, said she was approached multiple times by DCTA about running in the at-large race. The union’s then-president Henry Roman and political consultant Rachel Caine claimed, on separate occasions, that Anderson wasn’t a “viable” candidate, Nath told The Post, and encouraged her to run against him.
In June 2019, Nath met with Caine for what she thought was a routine interview with the union. Caine again asked her to run in the at-large race, saying there were allegations of sexual assault that were going to be made public and Anderson would have to drop out of the race, Nath said.
Neither Roman nor Caine returned The Post’s requests for comment.
In 2019, Shaw was one of five DCTA members on the Fund, as it’s colloquially known, which interviews and endorses candidates who run for public office based on their education agendas. The Fund had received a copy of a letter written by a student that detailed her experience working with Anderson, which alluded to sexual impropriety, Shaw said.
“I just came away from this letter saying this is a very serious allegation of misconduct,” she said. Fund members wanted to follow up with the student to learn more about the accusations, Shaw added, but were unable to locate her.
“We were told that this student literally dropped out of school and disappeared and no one could find her,” Shaw said. “When you have an allegation, without it coming from the actual victim, the question becomes do you make a decision based on an allegation? So there were some individuals who were very conflicted about what to do with that information. I was not conflicted.”
Endorsements are decided by a vote of Fund members, not all of which end up being unanimous, Shaw said.
“We’re talking about a sexual allegation, which we should never be having a conversation about a school board candidate in my book,” Shaw said. “Personally, I felt like the allegations were serious enough that I couldn’t support a candidate that had that kind of allegation.”
DCTA endorsed Anderson in July 2019 and contributed $50,000 in monetary and in-kind donations to his campaign thereafter, campaign finance records show.
“The allegations never came out”
Decker told Chalkbeat Colorado the union never approached Anderson about the allegation. It’s unclear whether the union ever informed the district, which employed Anderson at the time. In 2019, he worked as a restorative justice coordinator at North High School.
“This is the first time Director Anderson has heard about this communication and to this date has never read it,” Decker told Chalkbeat Colorado. “In 2019, there were various individuals trying to get other candidates to run against him and cited that he was unelectable due to his age and color of his skin. Director Anderson is deeply disappointed that the Denver Classroom Teachers Association hid this communication, if in fact it exists, from him.”
Nath said she reached out to Anderson’s campaign team to give them the chance to address the allegations and the fact DCTA was trying to get her to undermine his campaign. Nath said she never received a call back, nor did she enter the at-large race.
“The race continued on as usual and the allegations never came out. That was a bit of a surprise,” Nath said.
Shaw recalled asking Nath to consider running at-large prior to her filing for official candidacy, but denied it was in response to allegations against Anderson. Nath ran in District 1 against Scott Baldermann, who ultimately got the union’s endorsement and won the election.
“We thought both of them had great things to bring to the school board and we wanted to support both of them,” Shaw said.
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