KOREATOWN (CBSLA.com) — The LAUSD is responding to criticism from employees after cafeteria workers were told to only speak English.

A sign recently posted at Harvard Elementary School in Koreatown stirred the controversy. It 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 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.

In a statement issued Thursday, the LAUSD said it embraces its cultural community but the English-only policy is in place for safety reasons: “In an emergency situation in a busy kitchen area where an employee is trying to communicate ‘hot food’ or a similar warning it is suggested that these phrases are spoken in English for the benefit of everyone working in the kitchen and cafeteria area.”

(credit: CBS)

(credit: CBS)

They said the policy dates back to 2005 and that they posted the signs at Harvard Elementary as a reminder.

“I understand that we’re in America, but they should also understand that Latinos are one-third of the population here, especially in L.A.,” parent Jose Armenta said.

Some parents agree with the English-only rule.

“What if it’s a hot soup that they’re serving and then the kid doesn’t understand Spanish. And if you say ‘excuse me’ in Spanish and the kid doesn’t know, then how do you expect them to communicate?” a mother said to CBS2/KCAL9 reporter Kristine Lazar.

“There’s a lot of things you can do, either a tap on the shoulder or a loud ‘con permiso’ [Spanish for ‘excuse me’]. If someone says that you’d turn around or see what it is, right, whether you understand or you don’t,” Armenta said.

The district said the English-only rule does not apply to a worker who is on break or other parts of the campus, only while they’re in the cafeteria.

Related Story: Exclusive: Unions Blast LAUSD For Telling Cafeteria Workers To Speak Only English

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