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Restorative justice stops fights, keeps kids in schools

Mar 10, 2010

from Nelson Garcia's article on

Juan Salazar used to be one of those students who got into trouble for fighting at North High School. Now he uses words instead of fists.

"If someone bumped into me, I started saying something," Salazar, a senior, said. "It always led to a fight."

It also always led to a suspension.

...."When zero tolerance was used within schools, that was pushing students out and suspending them for minor offenses," Nunez said.

Students like Salazar would find themselves in deep academic holes with little motivation to get out.

"Getting suspended made me fall behind in class, so I would come and wouldn't know what's going on," Salazar said. "That would make me not want to come to class anymore."

In 2008, DPS adopted a new plan which included an aspect known as Restorative Justice. Ben Cairnes runs the Restorative Justice Program at North High School.

"Restorative Justice is actually not a program. It's a philosophy," Cairnes, North High School Restorative Justice coordinator, said.

The premise basically states that when students fight, instead of immediate suspensions, have them sit down and discuss the issues face-to-face. They go over a series of questions with Cairnes as the mediator. Then, they come up with contract that spells out a way towards working the differences out.

Restorative Justice is completely voluntary. If a student does not want to participate, then a suspension may be handed out under the guidelines of district discipline policy.

Cairnes says it is about teaching students to respect each other, see different perspectives, and soothe animosity before it blossoms into something bigger.

....Wilson says it is keeping students like Salazar in school. He says it is teaching them communications skills and how to compromise. It's teaching them how to talk the talk instead of walk the walk.

Salazar now plans on attending college next year.

"I didn't think I was going to make it to my junior year and here I am in my senior year," Salazar said. "I could've been in a lot of trouble if [Restorative Justice] wasn't here."

Read the whole article.

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