Home » DPS Boardmembers Trade Anti-Blackness, Retaliation Charges After School-Closures Meeting
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DPS Boardmembers Trade Anti-Blackness, Retaliation Charges After School-Closures Meeting

Members of the Board of Education for Denver Public Schools are slated to vote on a controversial plan to close and consolidate five low-attendance schools at a meeting today, November 17. But the session will take place against the backdrop of renewed conflict between board president Xóchitl “Sochi” Gaytán and vice president Auon’tai M. Anderson following an incident that took place during a marathon November 14 public-comments session about the shutdown strategy.

Just over halfway through the seven-hours-plus event, Gaytán told a speaker, Hashim Coates, executive director of the advocacy organization Black Brown and Red Badged, that he had gone over his allotted time, and when he remained at the podium, she asked security to escort him out of the meeting space — a gymnasium that’s part of DPS’s Emily Griffith Building complex. In response, Anderson and board treasurer Scott Esserman joined several people, including students, guardians and educators, in blocking security staffers from reaching Coates, who was eventually allowed to finish his remarks.

Afterward, Anderson unleashed a tweetstorm aimed at Gaytán, writing that “The Latina President of the Denver School Board summoned six ARMED officers to detain a Black, Gay, Veteran who was seeking to use his full three minutes….  This is an abuse of power and is another example of the Anti-Blackness our communities have been enduring in Denver Public Schools. This cannot go unchecked by the Board of Education, we must address this and reconsider our priorities moving forward. It is past time for a change.”

Speaking with Westword, Anderson elaborates on this last statement. “I do think it’s time for the board to reconsider leadership,” he says. If that happens, though, he stresses, “I would not be seeking the office of the presidency. I would want to remain a supportive partner to whoever our president will be, but I do believe we need to reconsider our leadership priorities and the leadership style, which does not fit my values.”

Gaytán responds: “I’m deeply disappointed that my board colleague is race-baiting once again on an issue that has nothing to do with race.”

The tensions between Gaytán and Anderson have been close to the surface for months. In June, Gaytán went public with what she described as a plot by Anderson and Esserman to maneuver her out of the board’s presidency or at least hobble her ability to do her job — a claim that both Anderson and Esserman denied. The strain flared again in August, when Anderson maintained that Gaytán’s comments about him had spurred death threats, prompting his decision to wear a bulletproof Kevlar vest at some appearances. According to Gaytán, Anderson’s concerns are the reason security guards were assigned to school board meetings in the first place — and she says he also lobbied for the move to the larger gymnasium space.

The pair dispute the reasons that linked stanchions (Anderson calls them a “barricade”) were put up to divide the audience from the boardmembers’ dais. Anderson describes the move as a “unilateral decision by the president of the board to restrict the public from the dais after black women approached it last month,” a reference to a foursome who’ve filed a lawsuit against DPS, arguing that it tried to trademark/steal the name of their podcast, Know Justice, Know Peace. “I disagreed with the optics of the barricade,” he adds. “I thought it was reactionary and warranted a full board conversation that didn’t happen.”

Gaytán responds: “The administration offered to increase safety and security measures for the safety of DPS employees, in addition to safety of boardmembers. When stanchions were brought up, my fellow boardmembers agreed to their placement, in addition to the increase to safety and security measures.”

The stanchions were part of the drama on November 14. During the back-and-forth action over Coates, Esserman pointedly moved them aside.

The official Denver Public Schools portraits of Board of Education president Xóchitl “Sochi” Gaytán and vice president Tay Anderson. 

Denver Public SchoolsCoates is neither a Denver resident (he lives in Aurora) nor the parent of a Denver Public Schools student. But, he notes, “I’m a DPS alum, and I manage campaigns and do political consulting. In one way or another, my finger has been on every single one of the seven campaigns of the DPS school board directors.” That includes Anderson, on whose behalf Coates spoke during a July 2021 press conference following allegations of sexual impropriety against the boardmember; an independent investigation failed to substantiate the most serious accusations against him but criticized his social media etiquette.

The November 14 meeting wasn’t the first time Coates has encountered trouble at a DPS gathering. During an August board meeting, he says, “The Gaytán people harassed me through the whole thing.” He offers a video clip from the event in which a woman he identifies as Gaytán’s mother threatens to call the police on him. And while the latest video shows Coates was always a considerable distance from Gaytán, she says that she believes he “has been showing up to continue his misogynistic behavior to harass and intimidate me, making me feel very unsafe.”

At the outset of the November 14 meeting, Gaytán told attendees that they should restrict their remarks to school closures rather than venturing into other subjects. But Coates began by following up on his observation at a previous meeting that the speakers’ podium didn’t comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act, a stance that earns praise from Anderson. And when he started talking about the shutdowns, he had his remarks translated into Spanish because that’s the language spoken by many parents at some institutions on the DPS chopping block: Denver Discovery School, Schmitt Elementary, Fairview Elementary, International Academy of Denver at Harrington and Math and Science Leadership Academy.

Through all of this, the clock was ticking, but Anderson says no one knew how much time was elapsing because the countdown wasn’t visible on screens installed for that purpose. So when Gaytán told Coates that his three minutes had expired, he says he was blindsided. About an hour earlier, he says, “they allowed a white woman to have significantly more than three minutes to speak, and she wasn’t cut off — but I was. I was the only one to have my clock not run and be told my time was up.”

Anderson chides Gaytán for asking security to show Coates the door partly because of equity, but also due to “the traumatizing factors in the Black community. Anytime anybody has law enforcement of any kind called on them, whether it be from a school district or a different law enforcement branch, it’s traumatic.”

By Anderson’s estimate, he spent “95 percent of the night” away from the dais to demonstrate his solidarity with attendees who objected to the closure plan, which he’s pledged to reject at tonight’s meeting. When security moved toward Coates, “I said, ‘If you’re going to detain him, you’re going to have to detain me with him.'” Anderson recalls, adding that shortly thereafter, “a wall formed around Mr. Coates, where we locked arms. We put our bodies on the line.”

Arrests weren’t part of DPS security’s agenda, as Anderson acknowledges, and after negotiations involving superintendent Dr. Alex Marrero and boardmember Michelle Quattlebaum, among others, Coates was invited back to the podium.

The following DPS video captures some, but definitely not all, of these occurrences, which unspooled over approximately 25 minutes. Coates steps to the microphone around the 3:44 mark.

BOE Public Comment 11-14 from DPS Board on Vimeo.As Coates sees it, “There tends to be a pattern of mistreatment for people of color by DPS — a pattern of suppression and removal.” Anderson agrees, asserting that “Mr. Coates has been another victim, and he could have potentially been another hashtag based on anti-Black actions by the president, calling on armed security.” Anderson stops short of dubbing Gaytán a racist, but says that he thinks “she needs to seek professional development with a Black woman who can help guide her on how to be an anti-racist and provide training on the traumatic nature of the relationship between the Black community and law enforcement.”

To Gaytán, the story should actually be about Coates’s “disorderly conduct — not allowing us to run an appropriate board meeting and give space and time to those parents and students whose voices we all need to elevate, and not the voice of an individual who is in no way, shape or form even connected to Denver Public Schools.”

She adds: “As the retaliatory and vindictive nature of Vice President Anderson’s comments continues towards me, they do not surprise me. My focus is on representing District 2, southwest Denver, as best as I can. As a proud indigenous Latina leader and first naturalized-citizen-president of the DPS Board of Education, I will continue my focus on that role and in my commitment to presiding over board meetings. It’s important that the board continues on a path to short-term and long-term policy solutions that will positively impact DPS scholars.”

Today’s board meeting gets underway at 4:30 p.m. at the Emily Griffith Building,1860 Lincoln Street. Anderson will hold a press conference on the site at 4 p.m.

Source: West Word