KOREATOWN (CBSLA.com) — Workers unions are firing back at the Los Angeles Unified School District after it is believed to have told cafeteria workers at Harvard Elementary School they could only speak English on campus.
The district allegedly posted a sign in the school's cafeteria that read: "During works hrs we the cafe have a English only rule for safety reasons."
The directive was issued at a school where Spanish is spoken by the majority of cafeteria workers and about 85 percent of students, according to a statement issued by the United Teachers Los Angeles and Service Employees International Union Local 99, which represents cafeteria workers.
"I would say like 99 percent of the kids are Hispanic, so there's no reason for them to tell them not to talk Spanish," parent Frislian Gomez said.
It has also started to worry cafeteria workers at other LAUSD schools.
"The workers are getting concerned. They're asking, 'Is this English-only policy going to be in effect for everybody?'" said Gamaliel Andrade, who's worked for 14 years in the cafeteria at Farmdale Elementary in East L.A.
Union officials said having workers struggle to speak a language they're uncomfortable with would be problematic and create a "safety issue" in the case of an emergency.
"It's a safety issue if we can't communicate, so I'm going to communicate in the language that's most effective with the co-workers around me," Andrade said.
They also raised the point that it may distance the large contingency of parents who don't speak English at home:
"We believe the 'English only' directive for cafeteria workers sends the wrong message to our students and to parents. As students master English language skills, it would be a waste, and unjust, if students were called upon to abandon their other languages. As the district seeks broader parent engagement and stronger ties with our immigrant communities, it is necessary to re-examine this rule. In a community as diverse as Los Angeles, bilingual and multilingual skills should be celebrated."
Not everyone finds the English-only rule an issue.
"I don't have a problem with it. I'm from here. The whole community speaks English now," parent Carlos Enriquez said.
Meanwhile, the district website reports that 92 languages other than English are spoken by students in LAUSD schools. More than 160,000 students are listed as English learners, meaning they're being instructed to speak English proficiently.
UTLA and SEIU Local 99 said they're "standing up for language rights and multilingualism" for students and employees at district schools.
Calls to the district, which were made after-hours Wednesday, have not yet been returned.
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