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DPS board infighting reemerges over Anderson press appearances

As Denver Public Schools continue to reel over last week’s shooting of two administrators at East High School, school board bickering once again threatens to eclipse conversations over youth gun violence and other weighty issues.

In a five-page memorandum sent Wednesday, board President Xóchitl Gaytán admonished Vice President Auon’tai Anderson for a dozen alleged violations of board policies during a press conference and appearance on a TV news program last Monday to discuss the issue of police officers in schools.

The most serious allegation accuses Anderson of divulging information discussed during an executive session, which would be a violation of state law.

“Due to VP Anderson’s disclosure of privileged information, the Executive Session that took place on Thursday 03/23/2023 is now subject to at least 2 (open records) requests as of Monday 03/27/2023,” Gaytán wrote.

The issue in question is whether Anderson inappropriately divulged that Denver Mayor Michael Hancock told DPS Superintendent Alex Marrero that unless the school board voted to put School Resource Officers back in Denver schools, he would issue an executive order mandating the move.

Anderson has insisted that Marrero informed him and Gaytán of that conversation with the mayor during a conversation before the executive session began. The mayor’s office has vehemently denied that any such executive order had been drafted or contemplated.

In an interview Thursday, Anderson said Gaytán’s action was ill-advised, given the safety crises the district faces.

“I’m disappointed that this memo stating that I violated policy by speaking to the press is is going to be the first thing on the board’s agenda at our next meeting,” Anderson said “Our communities deserve a united board and our students deserve to have us focusing on them and not our own interpersonal issues.”

The memo also criticizes Anderson for expressing his individual views as if they were official positions of the board.

“At the start of any press coverage or 1:1 media interviews on Monday 03/27/2023, VP Anderson did not state a disclaimer to indicate that he was not speaking on behalf of the board or the District and that his statements were his and only his viewpoints,” Gaytán wrote.

“The President has the duty as outlined above and had already held a press conference on Thursday to address the District’s safety concerns.”

Other alleged violations of board policy detailed in the memo include:

  • Anderson took “individual action that could compromise the integrity of the Board, Superintendent or DPS” by divulging “inaccurate information” about East High School shooter Austin Lyle’s expulsion from Cherry Creek Schools. “The District was fully aware of the expulsion and charges associated with the expulsion. This is being perceived by many as inaccurate and misinformation.”
  • Anderson potentially “endangered the District’s public image, credibility, or ability to accomplish its Ends.” Gaytán wrote that Anerson’s statements could be used in a lawsuit “against the District regarding the Board’s culpability for the violence at East HS.”
  • Anderson failed to explain during his press appearances that he was not officially speaking on behalf of the board.
  • Anderson violated trust among board members by making several statements that were inaccurate or “misleading” and failing to inform his colleagues in advance that he would be making press appearances.
  • Anderson failed to follow the “chain of command” by placing a call last week to Denver Police Chief Ron Thomas without “consent or knowledge of the board President or the board as a whole.

Anderson said the memo and the fact that this issue will be atop the April 10 board agenda could itself be a violation of Board Policy GP 13, which lays out a process by which board members can be censured for repeated violations of policy.

“Anytime a board member is in violation, it’s supposed to be a conversation with the President and if the behavior continues, then she recommends to the full board for a work session discussion,” Anderson said. “She (Gaytán) has not even followed GP13. She just immediately started escalating it all the way to board action.”