When Carolina Jurado moved to the United States from Panama several years ago, she knew English would become a part of her daily life.
But she never thought she would be forbidden to speak her native Spanish.
Jurado had worked for a year at Crystal Lake Elementary School in Lake Mary before a supervisor ordered her and fellow Hispanics on the cafeteria staff in September to stop speaking their native language on the job.
From then on, it would be English-only in the kitchen, based on a Seminole County school-district workplace policy that applied only to kitchen workers.
They could speak Spanish only when taking breaks or to help a Spanish-speaking customer.
Jurado’s supervisor presented her with a piece of paper with the rule typed across the page and a space for her signature below.
She refused to sign it.
Instead, Jurado quit the job and, at the prompting of a friend, turned to the National Latino Officers Association of America for help.
Last month, the association—an advocacy group for Hispanics—filed a complaint with the school district, calling the rule “unlawful and discriminatory.”
Seminole County is the only school district in Central Florida with an English-only policy, though none of the employees who complained was made aware of the rule until last fall.
Ned Julian, the district’s legal counsel, said the policy was created more than 10 years ago to avoid mishaps in the “very dangerous” workplace.
‘The common language’
Jurado, 28, and several Spanish-speaking colleagues in the kitchen were shocked to be told they could speak their language only on breaks. They spoke English to non-Spanish speakers and to the children, teachers and administrators they served in the cafeteria, they said.
‘Spirit of the law’
The National Council for La Raza in Washington, the largest Hispanic civil-rights and advocacy organization in the United States, often hears of complaints about language policies similar to the one in Seminole County.
However, the employer can put the rule in place if it is necessary to run a business but cannot mandate any language be spoken during a break or lunch.
Matter of principle
Jurado is one of three Seminole kitchen workers who asked the National Latino Officers Association to intervene and file a complaint on their behalf.
Quitting her job made life more difficult for Jurado, whose husband is now the only wage earner in the family. The couple have two young children, including a disabled son.
But she said her opposition to the English-only policy was a matter of principle.
“We work for everything we have,” Jurado said. “Why should this have cost us our jobs?”