Jimmy’s Colorado Politics Column | Adults have left the building at DPS

Written by on July 27, 2021

At this moment, Investigations Law Group is still conducting its “independent investigation” into accusations of sexual assault against Denver Public Schools board member Tay Anderson, allegedly involving more than 60 DPS students.  The investigation, for which ILG was hired in April, is expected to wrap up come mid-August.  Yet even though Anderson is the subject of an ongoing district investigation, DPS’s new superintendent, Dr. Alex Marrero, wasted no time sharing the stage with him.

Late Saturday morning at Brother Jeff’s Cultural Center, Marrero and Anderson united for a “town hall” ostensibly to “get back to work.”  The event was livestreamed on Jeff Fard’s Facebook page and ran for over an hour.

Normally an investigation of this magnitude concerning somebody in a position of trust and influence over children would be taken seriously by senior district leadership.  When a DPS employee faces such allegations, he or she is at minimum placed on leave.  But if you are responsible for hiring the superintendent, you get a platform by his side.

Surely Marrero would abide district policy and not share a stage with a hypothetical teacher accused of sexual assault on students.  But Tay Anderson is one of Marrero’s seven bosses — a school board member — so it’s okay. Right?

Wrong.  In fact, this explains the biggest reason why Marrero should NOT have held his event with Anderson. 

Irrespective of the outcome of the ILG investigation, it’s not over yet.  The accusations leveled against Anderson remain significant.  Yet he voted for Marrero’s installment as superintendent on June 3.  Less than two months later, Marrero holds a very friendly town hall with Anderson among his first public appearances.

Whether intentional or not, ask yourself: What message is the new leader of Denver Public Schools sending to potential, alleged victims who may be hesitant to come forward — about ANY district employee or board member?  (In Anderson’s case, I’ve documented in detail the intimidation campaign already active by #TeamTay.) 

What assurances is Marrero giving to students and parents who feel uncomfortable or unsafe with Anderson’s premature return to board activities prior to the investigation’s end?  Why does Marrero think he can brush these concerns aside, even as his own district’s investigation continues?  Are there any responsible adults in DPS leadership who are following the district’s core tenet of “Students First?”

Let’s be real: The adults have left the building.

Marrero’s participation is chilling and inherently intimidating.  He’s signaled to the DPS community that Tay Anderson’s voice matters more than those of students and parents who have understandable concerns while an investigation remains outstanding. 

Marrero has revealed he doesn’t take seriously accusations of sexual assault upon dozens of his own district’s students.  He’s shown he cares more about being embraced by Anderson’s followers than reassuring concerned students and parents.  Thus, he’s failed his first test.

I asked DPS what Marrero’s reasons were for participating and whether he believes it was appropriate to join Anderson under these circumstances.

“Dr. Marrero is on what he calls ‘a listening and learning tour,’” said director of external communications Will Jones.  “He attended this town hall because he feels that it is important for him to be a part of important community conversations like this.  It is Dr. Marrero’s intention is to connect with all members of the community.”

Fair enough.  Not only is it reasonable for a new superintendent to engage directly with the community he serves; it’s wise and commendable.

Unfortunately, what a school district’s superintendent and board members do together doesn’t happen in a vacuum.  You cannot divorce the “listening and learning tour” element from Marrero sitting side-by-side with the subject of a DPS investigation himself.  Even the title of the event — “Let’s Get Back to Work” — sounds like an endorsement from the superintendent that it’s time to move past Anderson’s troubles.

This point about the investigation wasn’t lost on Marrero and Anderson, either.  During his introductory remarks, Anderson informed the audience they wouldn’t take any questions about the matter.  Anyone who was planning to do so should leave.

“We will not be able to discuss the ongoing, outside processes that may be going on, that may be in the back of your mind,” he said.  “If you’re not OK with that, that is totally OK with us.  We’ll ask you just to step out if you cannot be a part of this fruitful conversation.”

While Anderson used the word “processes” instead of “investigation,” it’s obvious what he was saying: No questions about the ongoing investigation allowed.

If the DPS board and administration aren’t taking the investigation seriously, why should anyone else?  How much confidence can and should DPS students, parents and teachers place in the so-called “independent investigation” if it’s being discounted and dismissed by district leadership even while it’s still underway?

More importantly, how does DPS rebuild trust now that it’s clear many students feel unsafe given that, at every turn, the adults in charge are more concerned about themselves?

Perhaps someone will ask Superintendent Marrero these questions on his listening and learning tour.  That is, if he’s genuinely open to “listening and learning” — and community members are even allowed to ask.

Click here to read the rest of Jimmy’s July 27 column at Colorado Politics, a sister publication of The Washington Examiner.

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