Two newspapers are trying to get Denver Public Schools to release redacted information from a report on the investigation into Board of Education Member Tay Anderson, which was spurred by anonymous allegations of sexual assault ultimately found to be unsubstantiated.
In a court filing submitted Tuesday, Denver Public Schools asked a judge to rule on whether the redacted information should be released.
The Denver North Star, a monthly newspaper covering the northwestern part of the city, filed a Colorado Open Records Act request on Oct. 4 seeking to uncover the redacted information. The Denver Post filed a similar request Oct. 5.
The school district’s report, put together by the Investigation Law Group and released in redacted form in September, found that 23-year-old Anderson had not engaged in any illegal activity or committed the most severe allegations made against him.
But the report found his conduct — which included flirting on social media with a 16-year-old DPS student, who Anderson said he did not know was underage — was not becoming of a board member.
After the report was issued, the Denver school board censured Anderson with a vote of 6-1. Anderson was the lone opposing vote. Denver’s district attorney declined to file criminal charges against Anderson.
David Sabados, the publisher of The Denver North Star, told BusinessDen that he filed the records request after the school district made a statement that said it would ensure the case on Anderson would be as transparent as possible.
“I think it’s a question of what are we looking for? And the answer is without better understanding what is in there, it could be hard to say exactly,” Sabados said. “We are not seeking the identity of anyone who is underage. We’re looking in large part for Director Anderson’s testimony during this investigation. Director Anderson is an adult, and we see no reason for why this should be redacted.”
Denver Post Managing Editor Matt Sebastian said there are more than a dozen pages that are blacked out in the report.
“We’re encouraged to see the DPS board following through with this, and believe that, barring redactions made to preserve the privacy of minors, the bulk of the investigation into a public official is a matter of public interest and should be released under the Colorado Open Records Act,” Sebastian told BusinessDen.
Issa Israel, an attorney who responded to questions on behalf of Anderson, said his firm is concerned that the release of the redacted information could expose the identities of underage people, and he said the requests for information are looking into a time period before Anderson was a board member.
“Essentially, and, to be frank, somewhat disturbingly, they want to see private information about juveniles and teenagers during a time period when Anderson himself was a teenager,” Israel said. “We’re deeply concerned about the precedent granting this request may set and, perhaps more importantly, how such a precedent could impact the lives of young people and those who aspire to public office.”
According to the court filings, the Denver Public Schools records custodian could not decide whether the redacted information should be released.
“Because the ILG report contains highly personal and/or intimate information potentially impacting Director Anderson’s constitutional right to privacy, the custodian is unable to determine if the redacted material is a public record subject to disclosure under (the Colorado Open Records Act),” the filing stated.
The school district’s filing also stated that although Anderson’s expectations for privacy are legitimate, he has “not shied away from the intense public debate of his actions,” as he has addressed the matter to the rest of the board, on social media and on podcasts.
A statement previously released by the school board said portions of Section 2 of the report were redacted because Anderson said the information violates his privacy interests if they are released. Section 3 is also heavily redacted because it contains information given by a minor.
The information that’s redacted appears to be related to Anderson’s tenure as president of Never Again Colorado, a gun-control advocacy group that was led by young people, according to a 2018 post from the Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center, which features a photo of Anderson in it.
The report found Anderson made unwelcome sexual comments and that he flirted with and made unwelcome sexual advances toward various women associated with the organization. The next line is redacted.
The organization does not appear to have an active website and its Facebook page appears to be defunct, according to a cursory search on Google. Anderson was not a school board member at the time, as he was elected in 2019. He resigned from the Never Again Colorado board in July 2018, according to Westword.
Denver Public Schools said in an email to BusinessDen that the district remains committed to transparency.
“We have received a number of Colorado Open Records Act requests for un-redacted portions of the document and have obligations under CORA,” said Will Jones, a spokesman for the school district. “The district will adhere to any ruling provided by the court and hopes to resolve this matter without any more continuous or costly litigation.”
The Post reported in September that Denver Public Schools spent $192,000 on the investigation into Anderson, whose term ends in 2023.