DENVER (KDVR) — A lawsuit filed Tuesday against Auon’tai Anderson, the Denver Public Schools Board of Education vice president, claims he infringed upon constituents’ First Amendment rights after he blocked people and deleted comments on his Facebook page.
On July 31, Anderson posted on Facebook about further findings from the firing of the McAuliffe International School principal, Kurt Dennis.
In the since-deleted post, Anderson said there had been a meeting with Dennis and the Northeast Denver Innovation Zone Board of Directors. The meeting was after Dennis did a TV interview about the shooting at East High School.
Anderson asked for the footage to be released and asked for the public to demand it as well.
“But in a democratic society, it is not just the responsibility of those in office to ensure transparency, it is also the duty of the public to demand it,” Anderson wrote.
In response to the Facebook post, Eve Chen, a parent of a Denver Public Schools student, commented, “Where can I email to ask for an unrelated investigation report against you as a taxpayer? As a taxpayer, I think I am entitled to read that too.”
Anderson immediately blocked Chen and deleted her comment, according to the lawsuit filed by attorney Andy McNulty.
In a press release about the lawsuit, McNulty claims Anderson has spent years blocking critics on social media.
This is part of a national debate about whether public officials can block people on social media.
The lawsuit claims that Anderson violated Chen’s First Amendment rights as one of his constituents.
“The banning of Chen imposes an unconstitutional restriction on her participation in a designated public forum and her right to petition the government for redress of grievances,” the complaint says.
The lawsuit and preliminary injunction were filed to stop his censorship and to vindicate Chen’s First Amendment rights, according to McNulty.
In a statement, Anderson said he was initially unaware of the lawsuit and that he was within his rights under state law.
“Today, it came to my attention via media outlets that Eve Chen, campaign manager for Paul Ballenger—a candidate vying to succeed me on the Denver School Board—is initiating legal action against me. The lawsuit pertains to her removal from a Facebook account I manage, which associates me with the Denver School Board, though it is not managed nor was created by the district. My actions are in strict compliance with the recently enacted state law, HB23-1306, which empowers elected officials to regulate their social media interactions,” his statement said in part.
Anderson also said he closely monitors social media because of harassment related to his age and race.
“Since my election to the Denver School Board, which marked me as the youngest African American to assume public office, my family and I have been subjected to harassment and death threats via social media platforms. This is why I closely monitor my social media presence. The tax-payer dollars, which could be allocated towards addressing pressing needs like enhancing security measures for Denver Public Schools in the midst of escalating community violence, will instead be diverted to defend against this legal claim that is unlikely to be settled before I leave office in less than 60 days. I look forward to defending myself in court, and it is my hope that no other elected official is subjected to the level of harassment that has marked my tenure over the past four years. We must redirect our focus and resources to more pressing concerns affecting our schools and community,” the statement said.