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Controversial Disciplinary Approach In Schools Could Help DREAMers

By Shaun Boyd

DENVER (CBS4)- A controversial disciplinary approach at Denver Public Schools could help "DREAMers."

DPS was one of the first districts in the country to implement Restorative Justice district-wide.

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(credit: CBS)

At the time, it was meant to address a "school to prison" pipeline that had been created, in part, by zero-tolerance policies in schools. Now, the district also sees it as way to address a "school to deportation" pipeline that's been created by the uncertainty over the Deferred Action For Childhood Arrivals or DACA.

Pres. Donald Trump repealed the program that shields from deportation people who were brought to the country illegally as kids.

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(credit: Denver Sheriff Dept.)

North High School is one of the first schools to implement restorative justice in the country.

DPS Coordinator Liz Vargas says it's taken on added significance now, "With recent attacks on immigrants, what we see is that by a student having, for example, a police record when they graduate high school, that makes them far more at risk for deportation."

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DPS Coordinator Liz Vargas (credit: CBS)

Vargas says the alternative disciplinary approach helps students avoid being flagged by law enforcement by emphasizing conflict resolution over criminal sanctions and personal growth over punishment.

"To have to sit down with the person you had conflict with and really understand what the root cause of your behavior is and to work with them to come up with how are we actually going to fix this, it's a really authentic way to address conflict," said Vargas.

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(credit: CBS)

Maria Rosales says it turned her life around, "I was just always arguing, fighting. It's like I didn't care."

Rosales was suspended repeatedly in middle school. But she says, North High School made her work it out after a fight instead of throwing her out.

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Maria Rosales (credit: CBS)

"I was like dang, they care because they didn't just suspend me and end the problem. They took time from their schedule to come talk to me about it. They showed me they were there for me even though what I did wasn't correct," said Rosales.

DPS is now sharing its restorative practices with other schools nationwide with a step-by-step guide that Vargas says is more important than ever with DACA at risk.

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CBS4 Political Specialist Shaun Boyd interviews DPS Coordinator Liz Vargas (credit: CBS)

"We don't want every school that's trying to do this work and every district that's trying to do this work to have to start from scratch," said Vargas.

Restorative practices haven't been without controversy. Some say DPS has gone too far in the other direction. Vargas disagrees. She says suspensions and expulsions are down and the graduation rate is up.

Shaun Boyd is CBS4's political specialist. She's a veteran reporter with more than 25 years of experience. Follow her on Twitter @cbs4shaun.

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