Tag Archives: Denver Public Schools

Protesters Want ‘Forced Splits’ Principal Reinstated

DENVER (CBS4) – Protesters want East High School’s principal reinstated after he was placed on leave as part of an investigation into cheerleaders forced to do the splits. Andy Mendelberg was one of five school employees placed on leave after videos surfaced last month showing former East High cheerleading coach Ozell Williams pushing cheerleaders down into the extended splits as they cry out in pain.
cheerleader forced splits Protesters Want Forced Splits Principal Reinstated

(credit: Kirsten Wakefield)

Denver Public Schools also suspended the school’s assistant principal, athletic director, cheerleading coach, and assistant cheerleading coach while they conducted an independent investigation.
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(credit: Kirsten Wakefield)

Regardless of the outcome of the investigation, supporters of Mendelberg want him to stay. Results of that investigation are expected to be released Friday afternoon.

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 Donald Trump repealed the program that shields from deportation people who were brought to the country illegally as kids.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

Sex Ed Program To Be Cut: ‘It’s Going To Be Significant’

By Jeff Todd DENVER (CBS4) – A group that specializes in teaching teachers about sex education and preventing teen pregnancy will cease operation at the end of the year after losing Federal funding. “I think it’s going to be significant,” said Andrea Miller the Executive Director of Colorado Youth Matter about the closure’s impact. “We are statewide. We’ve taught teachers in Grand Junction and Durango and the Eastern Plains and a lot of work here on the Front Range.”
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(credit: Colorado Youth Matter)

Colorado Youth Matter specializes in teaching school staff how to effectively communicate with teens. “It’s really focusing on the whole child and the mental, emotional, social piece that our students really need,” said Kellie Cassity, a PE and Health teacher at North High School in Denver.
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Kellie Cassity talks with CBS4’s Jeff Todd (credit: CBS)

At times CYM has helped as many as 25 Colorado school districts in a given year with training sessions. “We talk about those things in very medically accurate way but it’s also relationship based. We talk about consent, asking for consent, giving consent, those kind of things to create a healthy relationship. We also talk to teachers about how to answer difficult questions. Whether it’s something a student has read on the internet or something that is very values-based, like when is it the right time to have sex,” Miller said.
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(credit: CBS)

However, CYM has a budget largely based on grants and the non-profit lost three in 2017 including $750,000 that makes up about 75 percent of the yearly expenditures. “The Health and Human Services Department removed the teen pregnancy prevention funding from the budget before they proposed it to the House of Representatives Committee, so it was removed from the get-go,” Miller said. Miller says the new administration in charge at HHS “believe the project is ineffective.” Without funding CYM is hoping it can help its staff get hired at other areas.
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(credit: Colorado Youth Matter)

“We have a talented staff that knows a lot about youth sexual health and knows how to work with youth in a very inclusive manner. And we want to make sure that continues,” Miller said. Denver Public Schools is also looking for a new solution moving forward, with a way to train health teachers and other district staff. “It gives us the tools to help support our students in the classroom. We are on the front lines and the students need the help from the teachers. This is a human impact, this impacts our community, this impacts our state, our whole entire country,” Cassity said. Jeff Todd joined the CBS4 team in 2011 covering the Western Slope in the Mountain Newsroom. Since 2015 he’s been working across the Front Range in the Denver Headquarters. Follow him on Twitter @CBS4Jeff.

National Healthy Lunch Day Celebrated In Schools Every Day

DENVER (CBS4) The American Diabetes Association is celebrating National Healthy Lunch Day by encouraging everyone to eat a healthy lunch, full of fresh fruits and vegetables. That is exactly what’s on the menu at Beach Court Elementary School in Denver. In addition to a sandwich made with whole wheat bread or mac & cheese made with whole grain pasta, the kids can serve themselves from the fresh fruit and veggie bar.
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Fresh fruit and veggie bar at Beach Court Elementary (credit CBS)

“They have to take a ½ a cup of fruits or vegetables so we want it to be something that they want,” said Theresa Hafner, executive director of Enterprise Management, which contracts with Denver Public Schools on food services. Over the years, the district has moved away from highly processed foods, which are high in trans fats and high fructose corn syrup, opting now for more fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and from scratch cooking. But beyond changing the food that’s offered, the district is also now offering more options for children.
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A student eats a plum at Beach Court Elementary School (credit CBS)

“Making sure there are vegetarian choices, hot choices, cold choices and just letting them make the choices, gives them control, and they’re making healthy choices,” Hafner told CBS4. The American Diabetes Association supports school districts in their efforts to move to healthy lunches every day of the year.

Racist Flyers At East High: Real Or A Hoax?

By Tom Mustin DENVER (CBS4) – Is it a hoax, or a real effort to recruit young members to a Neo-Nazi group? That’s what officials with Denver Public Schools are trying to figure out after receiving reports of white supremacist flyers being distributed near the grounds of Denver East High School. No actual flyers have been confiscated, but social media pages show plenty of pictures of the alleged recruiting posters. Students at Denver’s East High School spoke out Wednesday after reports of the racist flyers being posted on and around campus.
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East High School (credit: CBS)

“If the speech is trying to promote hate, promote people getting injured and feel bad about who they are, it’s not okay,” student Bridgette Harline told CBS4’s Tom Mustin. “Knowing it will offend people, and East being such a diverse school, it’s just not right” said sophomore Jade Norris. Social media posts show the flyers supposedly were part of an effort to recruit “alienated” students to join the National Socialist Party.
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flyers 1 Racist Flyers At East High: Real Or A Hoax? (credit: CBS)

CBS4 spoke to parents and staff who said they had seen the flyers. On Wednesday, DPS released a statement saying, to their knowledge no flyers had been found on campus, and Denver police were aware of the situation. “It’s just not right. It brings us down as a nation and as a school,” said parent Linda Curtis.
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CBS4’s Tom Mustin interviews Linda Curtis. (credit: CBS)

Curtis says she’s proud of East’s diversity. She believes students and faculty will see through any efforts to promote hate at the school “Hopefully we’ll be able to see through this and never let it get through the door,” she said. Civil rights activist Alvertis Simmons says there are questions about where the flyers actually came from. He says even if the flyers are a hoax, the issue is real. “People should not use our schools and our kids for propaganda effect or hate. Period,” Simmons said. When it comes to promoting hate at East High, Linda Curtis is hoping students will just say no. “I believe that as a school, East High school will reject it and we’ll go forward.” There’s currently no word on who actually distributed the flyers, or if there was any real connection to Neo-Nazi groups. Denver police say they are aware of the flyers, but they are not planning a formal investigation into the issue. Tom Mustin is CBS4’s Weekend Anchor. He has been with CBS4 since 2002, and is always looking for great story ideas. Connect with Tom on Facebook or follow him on Twitter @TomCBS4.

Police Arrest Suspects In RTD Bus Assault Of Student

DENVER (CBS4)– Police in Denver believe they have arrested the suspects wanted for assaulting a student from South High School on an RTD bus.

Police say the men, identified as Will Kee and Dericon Steel, assaulted the victim on an RTD bus on Aug. 23 about 3 p.m. when the bus was in the 1500 block of E. Louisiana Avenue.

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(credit: Denver Police)

Kee, 38, is being held for investigation of harassment and Steel is being held for investigation of third-degree assault and child abuse.

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Will Kee (credit: Denver Police)

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Dericon Steel (credit: Denver Police)

The victim is a student at South High School. Witnesses told police they thought the assault was racially-motivated but police determined the incident was not.

According to the affidavit, the Hispanic man walked up to the victim and said something but the victim could not hear what was said due to the noise of the crowded bus. Later, the other suspect, described in the affidavit as a white man, walked up to the victim and told him he needed to “shut the (expletive) up.”

The victim then told police the man grabbed his hair and pulled him down to the ground. He said he struck his head one or two times but couldn’t remember if he struck the seats or something else.

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(credit: CBS)

That’s when the victim said the Hispanic man attempted to kick him and that’s when the victim grabbed the man’s shirt to avoid being kicked.

A bunch of people on the bus started yelling and that’s when the bus stopped. Both men jumped out the back doors of the bus

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South High School (credit: CBS)

‘What Happened Was Wrong’: Cheer Coach Behind Forced Splits Fired From DPS

By Melissa Garcia

DENVER (CBS4)– Denver Public Schools Superintendent Tom Boasberg says that the district was “wrong not to have acted in June” when some East High School employees learned of forced splits.

The coach, Ozell Williams, and four other school employees were placed on leave while the Denver Public School District conducts as investigation alongside Denver police.

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(credit: Kirsten Wakefield)

On Friday evening during a news conference, Boasberg said that Williams was no longer with DPS.

He also provided a timeline about what happened after it was reported. He said in mid-June a parent contacted the athletic the athletic director about what had happened at a cheer camp and included video of the incident. The next day the principal, assistant principal and athletic director met with the parent and her daughter.

“At that meeting the school leadership believed they had addressed the parent’s and student’s concerns. It’s now clear they had not,” said Boasberg.

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East High School (credit: CBS)

Williams worked in multiple gyms throughout the Denver metro area. Most recently, he worked at Reunion Recreation Center, as a tumbling coach for children.

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(credit: CBS)

Rec center management said that as of Thursday, Williams is no longer employed there.

There is no brick and mortar building for the business, Mile High Tumblers 5280, run by Williams, parents said. His website advertises Williams as a power-tumbling expert.

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East High School (credit: CBS)

Industry professionals told CBS4’s Melissa Garcia that the technique Williams was seen using in the video is known as “power stretching.”

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(credit: Kirsten Wakefield)

East High freshman Ally Wakefield, 13, cried out in pain and said “stop” over and over but Williams could be seen continuing to force her down in the extended splits position while others held her in place.

“She’s torn her muscle tissues, her ligaments, and pulled a hamstring,” said Ally’s mother Kirsten Wakefield, of her daughter’s injuries.

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Kirsten Wakefield (credit: CBS)

Kirsten met with police as child abuse investigators worked the case.

“My daughter told me the coach told all of the girls, ‘Do not share this video with anyone. Keep this video just between us,'” Kirsten said.

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DPS Superintendent Tom Boasberg (credit: CBS)

Boasberg said the district has hired a law firm to perform an independent investigation to find out who knew what and when. He said until that investigation is over, the five East High employees who have been placed on leave, including the principal and athletic director, won’t be back at school.

“What happened was wrong. Under no circumstances should a young person be in a situation where they’re suffering physical or emotional harm,” said Boasberg.

Boasberg also said that East High School counselors worked with cheerleaders Friday morning to address their concerns.

Melissa Garcia has been reporting for CBS4 News since March 2014. Find her bio here, follow her on Twitter @MelissaGarciaTV, or send your story idea to mkgarcia@cbs.com.

Police Investigate Report Of Slurs, Attack On RTD Bus

DENVER (AP) — Denver police are investigating a report that a high school student was subjected to racial slurs and physically assaulted on a mass-transit bus.

Denver Public Schools said Friday the student was black and the alleged attacker was an older white man, and that the assault appeared to be racially motivated.

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South High School (credit: CBS)

Police spokesman John White said he couldn’t confirm whether race was a factor. He said officers are looking for witnesses and reviewing video from a camera on the bus.

The school district says in a written report the incident occurred Wednesday.

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(credit: CBS)

The district says witnesses reported the man singled out the student because of the student’s race. The district says other passengers intervened and the man got off the bus.

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(credit: CBS)

The statement says the student returned to school the next day.

(© Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

Cheer Video Shows Girls Forced Into Splits, Police Investigate

By Karen Morfitt

DENVER (CBS4)– Videos showing East High School cheerleaders forced into the splits are now at the center of a police investigation.

Eight different girls– all of them seen in video crying out in agony and repeatedly asking their coach to stop.

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(credit: Kirsten Wakefield)

Thirteen-year-old Ally Wakefield is one of them, “I was just kind of thinking it was normal. Like i did not think much of it…”He told us it was normal.”

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(credit: Kirsten Wakefield)

The video shot during a camp in June shows the coach, Ozell Williams, pushing the girls into position while teammates held them down.

Ally showed her parents Kirsten and Eric Wakefield, not knowing that what it showed could be criminal.

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CBS4’s Karen Morfitt interviews the Wakefields (credit: CBS)

“When she got me in the car and told me about it I said, ‘What? That sounds crazy’ and she said, ‘Well, I have the video, I’ll show you,’” said Kirsten Wakefield.

She said she almost crashed her car after seeing those videos.

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(credit: CBS)

She immediately went to school officials, expecting something would be done. Now, months later and only after someone leaked those videos, are Denver police getting involved.

“I feel vindicated because we’ve been trying since the beginning of June just to get someone to hear us and be an advocate for our girls,” Kirsten Wakefield said.

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Eric and Kirsten Wakefield (credit: CBS)

DPS has now put five school administrators on leave, including coach Ozell Williams, along with East High’s principal, assistant principal, assistant cheer coach, and general counsel.

The Wakefields say they just want to make sure Williams cannot hurt anyone else.

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East High School (credit: CBS)

“Some of the people were scared and they didn’t feel like they had a voice and so I just wanted to be their voice,” Ally Wakefield said.

Police are investigating this case as possible child abuse.

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East High School (credit: CBS)

DPS Superintendent Tom Boasberg released the following update on Thursday, Aug. 24, 2017, regarding allegations involving East High School: “First, I want to thank our community for your concern for the safety and well-being of our students. Please know we are supporting the Denver Police in the investigation of these allegations and we are doing all that we can to support our students and families at East and throughout the district.

We have sent notification to our athletic directors emphasizing that DPS does not allow the use of “forced splits” or any other activity that puts a student’s physical or mental health at risk, or in which a student is forced to perform an exercise beyond the point at which they express their desire to stop. I want to reiterate that this applies not just to athletics, but throughout our school communities.

This morning, counselors at East, with our district support team, worked with all the members of the cheer team — to bring them together as team, to address the students’ concerns, and to emphasize our commitment to their safety and well-being. Deputy Superintendent Susana Cordova and I also personally called the parents of every member of the East cheer team to offer support and answer their questions.

We know how deeply concerned our community is about the events that took place. We are reviewing the supports and resources currently in place for both students and educators, and we will propose additional efforts to ensure our school communities are educated about, and empowered to prevent, traumatic situations such as those depicted in the videos of East cheer practice.

We are committed to ensuring the safety and well-being of all our students, at East High School and throughout Denver Public Schools. We will provide additional information when we can.”

Karen Morfitt joined the CBS4 team as a reporter in 2013. She covers a variety of stories in and around the Denver metro area. Connect with her on Facebook, follow her on Twitter @karenmorfitt or email her tips.