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Pumpkin patch trip turns messy
Misunderstanding leads to calls of racism
An incident Friday at Changala’s Pumpkin Patch has the owners concerned and several kindergarten parents fuming with cries of “racism” after receiving a letter stating their children were not welcomed at the Pumpkin Patch unless the teachers spoke English.
The letter, written in Spanish and English, was sent home with five classes of Summit Charter Academy-Mathew Campus’ kindergartners Tuesday afternoon.
“We are sorry to inform you that our field trip the Pumpkin Patch tomorrow has been cancelled. Unfortunately, the owners of Changala’s Pumpkin Patch have requested that teachers not speak Spanish while at the pumpkin patch. We offered to provide translated for our teachers, but they stated we were only welcome if we spoke English,” the letter stated.
Typed across the bottom were the names of the teachers — “Srta. Andrade, Sra. Chavez, Sra. Escudero, Sr. Orozco and Sra. Valenzuela.”
But nothing could be further from the truth, said Pumpkin Patch owner Liz Changala.
“I’m in shock. They are making us out to be racists,” Changala said. “This is out of context.
What is happening is slander. Summit Charter has made this a witch hunt.”
The Changalas said they have numerous friends and workers who speak Spanish. She has no problem with that.
According to Changala, a teacher was at the pumpkin patch with her class Friday.
“A child was not where he was supposed to be. It was a liability issue and I needed to talk to the teacher,” Changala said. “But she refused to talk to us in English.”
Changala said the teacher is involved with the District’s dual immersion program, where the students are immersed in Spanish, and teachers not allowed to talk in English in front of the children.
Changala said she understands the concept and asked the teacher to step away from the children to talk in English.
“They explained to me, through a translator, that they were not allowed to talk to us in English,” Changala said. “When there’s a safety issue or a liability issue, I am responsible.
The insurance company will not want to hear that I went through a third party. I need to know that they understand what I am saying. But when I talked, [the teacher] only stared.
She would not acknowledge me with a headshake or anything. She would look at the interpreter.”
On Tuesday, the same teacher called to confirm Wednesday’s trip.
“They called and said they are coming again tomorrow, this time with 100 kids,” Changala said. “That’s fine. However, I told them ‘I want you to tell your teachers that if the need arises, I need to know that I can communicate with them in English.’ She said no. It’s a liability issue. We’re inviting these children to come here. If a child is lost or hurt, I need to be able to communicate with the teacher. I do not want to go through a third party. I want that teacher to tell me what happened.”
It is also upsetting, Changala said, that one teacher can take it upon herself to send out a letter.
“I’ve called the school principal. I called [Superintendent] Gary Mekeel — they won’t return my calls,” Changala said. “I know Gary Mekeel personally. The Redwood Campus bought property from us for the school. I’ve left messages at Summit Charter.”
Changala said she’s been dealing with parents, who arrived angry but calmed down after she explained what happened, all afternoon.
“For us, it was a liability issue. They are taking the word of one teacher,” she said. “Why didn’t they go through proper channels? Why didn’t the principal or superintendent call us? Summit Charter has made this a witch hunt. They are coming after us with pitch forks and torches.”
Changala said she has no problem with the children and parents speaking Spanish, or any other language, all day long, but she expects to be able to walk up to a teacher and point out something that is wrong or dangerous without the teacher giving her a “Deer-in-the-headlights look.”
Superintendent Gary Mekeel was not available for comment, however Assistant Superintendent Sharon Kamberg said the incident is all a misunderstanding and an opportunity to educate the public about the dual immersion program and the importance of keeping students and teachers 90 percent of the time in the target language.
Kamberg said she’s been behind closed doors and became aware of the situation, and the letter sent home, when she was interrupted during a meeting and had not had the opportunity to talk to the teacher, principal or the Changala family.
“I’m looking at this as an education opportunity. We know the Changalas. We have a relationship with them. It is not our intent to put anything negative upon them,” Kamberg said. “We apologize for the letter that went home. We apologize for the misunderstanding,” Kamberg said.
Kamberg said it is now a personnel issue and it will be addressed with the teachers.
“Our policy is to ask the principal to have things [letters] approved,” Kamberg said. “But yes, the teacher can speak English. The only thing I can think of is perhaps not wanting to leave the children unattended. Aides and parents can speak English and yes, teachers can step aside and speak in English.”
According to Cheyenne Ruffa, a former principal of SCA-Mathew Campus for five years, the classes have visited Changalas the five years she was there and this is the first time such an issue has occurred.
“My son is home [sad]. He was looking forward to this for so long,” said parent Perla Rivera. “He came home with this letter and I was the one that had to tell him.”
Though she’s taken him to the same pumpkin patch every year, this was the first time he was attending with his peers.
In lieu of the field trip, the students will be treated to a school pumpkin patch, with each child receiving a pumpkin and participating in fun games and activities.
Contact Esther Avila at 784-5000, Ext. 1045. Follow her on Twitter @Avila_recorder.