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School cafeteria workers told ‘English only’ when handling food

Vanessa Romo | October 20, 2014



espanol* UPDATED

A controversy is brewing at Harvard Elementary School where LA Unified cafeteria workers say they feel discriminated against after being instructed to speak only English during working hours.

According to employees at the Koreatown school, an “English only” sign was posted in the cafeteria last week, reminding employees that they could be dismissed for violating the district rule, according to the newspaper, La Opinion.

Most cafeteria workers at Harvard are native Spanish speakers, and 86 percent of students identify as Hispanic.

But district officials said today the workers misinterpreted the notice and that it only applies in narrow circumstances, specifically when food is being handled.

“It’s not that we’re telling them you can’t speak Spanish or whatever language they speak,” Monica Carazo, a district official told LA School Report. “It’s just that for safety reasons, when they’re handling food everybody has to be on the same page. If someone says, ‘Hot plate!,’ we want everyone to understand.”

Employees, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation, told the newspaper the language ban extends to all communication on campus. One woman said workers were told they could only respond to questions from teachers or students in English, even if they were asked in Spanish.

“I feel like I’m being a little bit rude when teachers speak to me in Spanish and I have to answer them in English,” she said. In other schools, she said, she was allowed to speak her native language.

The district’s Food Services Handbook says, “Due to the need for safety and effective communication, the Division has implemented an “English Only Rule.”

It goes on to say, “The rule requires that employees speak in English while in the kitchen and other work areas during the work shift while performing job duties. This is required in order to increase efficiency and effectiveness of communication and to promote the safety of our employees and students. This rule does not apply to employees on rest breaks or during lunch breaks.”


 

* Adds language fro the district’s Food Services Handbook.

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