Who’s looking out for our children?

This past weekend when I opened my electronic copy of the The Denver Post and saw two articles about DPS, I was appalled. What did I find? The new superintendent-designee is named in a federal lawsuit and a current board member is implicated during testimony at the State Capitol as the alleged abuser of dozens of undocumented students.

My immediate wondering was, who’s looking out for our children? Who is advocating for the 90,000+ kids who are enrolled in DPS and relying on the district to prepare them for college, career, and life? I’m with those who are protecting the children of Denver, regardless of immigration status. I’m with those who speak up for women, professional and otherwise, who are silenced, disregarded and dismissed because of their gender, race, or position in the hierarchy of their workplace.

In the first article about superintendent-designee Marrero, we learn that a female public health official believed herself to be “wrongly silenced” in the delivery of her duties as the Medical Director for the New Rochelle school district.  Is it a valid claim? The Federal court in New York will have the final say. Is it troubling for DPS? Apparently not. Two female DPS board members who responded to questions about the lawsuit, dismissed it on the grounds that it was filed against district leadership, citing “full confidence in Dr. Marrero.”

To the women of Denver, we see a female employee, believing herself to be “humiliated and … concerned that her reputation … is forever tarnished.” Does the fact of her ethnic or racial identification matter to women in Denver? I can’t answer that question. What I’m not okay with is women in positions of authority being dismissed, ignored or disregarded, because of their gender. I want to learn more about this lawsuit and the plaintiff’s claims before my school district hires someone named in the suit.

The second article was about Director Tay Anderson. A social justice advocate, testifying in a legislative hearing on a child sex abuse accountability act, made allegations that a sexual predator was targeting DPS students. Without naming the alleged perpetrator, the advocate made an impassioned case for the victims. According to the Denver Post, “the DPS Board of Education … was later made aware that the accusations were against DPS Director Tay Anderson.”

The advocate’s testimony went on to add that the claims were made largely by individuals of undocumented or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) immigration status. Denver Police asked for victims to come forward – but knowing the fear that children without documents experience, I am very skeptical that they will want to come forward.

Director Anderson received many endorsements in his school board race, starting with that of the Denver Classroom Teachers Association (DCTA).  With that powerful union, its confidence in Anderson and financial support, future school board colleagues donated significant amounts to his campaign. With DCTA support, other unions joined his effort along with community and political leaders.  It has taken a youth-based political group, the Colorado chapter of the High School Democrats, to ask for his resignation. As far as I can tell, his other supporters are silent.

After subsequent reporting, we’ve learned that Director Anderson stepped “away from his public duties” to protect “those I love first.” I wonder if anyone from DPS, or among his many influential supporters, advised him to step down to protect the children of the school district.

Protection afforded to powerful people is plentiful but for the humble, it is scarce. The protection by his many supporters is what prompted me to write this commentary. I condemn some longtime critics of Anderson who’ve pounced on these horrendous allegations to advance other sometimes racist agendas. But these allegations must be thoroughly investigated.

As a former DPS Board Director and City Council Member, I, Rosemary Rodriguez associate myself with those who are protecting the children and women of Denver. Children, regardless of immigration status, and women who have suffered discrimination.

Do Dr. Marrero and Director Anderson deserve the opportunity to respond to these claims? Yes, absolutely.

Should those with valid claims be afraid or intimidated from seeking justice because of the public trust that Dr. Marrero and Director Anderson enjoy? No, absolutely not.

Are we as Denverites entitled to a full investigation of all allegations? Yes, absolutely.

Rosemary Rodriguez
Rosemary Rodriguez is a former member of the Denver Public Schools Board of Education.