Lewis Griswold

Griswold: School, pumpkin patch find harmony

A kindergarten field trip to a corn maze and pumpkin patch in Porterville got a little messy, so corn maze owner Elizabeth Changala asked a teacher to get the children under control.

But the teacher would not speak English in front of the children. Changala offered to step away to talk, but to no avail.

A translator came over but it took awhile to communicate that having little ones climbing on combines and exploring the corn maze without better supervision could result in a child getting hurt and cause a liability problem for the patch, Changala said.

Worried about a repeat on the next field trip, she said teachers needed to communicate with her in English because of safety and liability issues.

Last week, Summit Charter Academy Mathew Campus canceled the next trip and sent home a letter to parents that the pumpkin patch "asked that we not speak Spanish." The school offered a translator, the letter said, but "we were only welcome if we spoke English."

The letter prompted a torrent of threats, nasty remarks and ugly Facebook comments accusing Changala of racism, she said. "I was bullied."

Burton School District said the school erred in how it communicated with parents, said assistant superintendent Sharon Kamberg.

"It was an unfortunate misunderstanding," Kamberg said. The letter fanned emotions because "it was not well thought out in the way it was worded."

Mathew Campus teaches kindergarten through sixth-grade students in both English and Spanish using a "dual immersion" program, Kamberg said. Some teachers speak only Spanish to students and some only English.

But there is no policy prohibiting teachers from speaking English as needed, she said. The school quickly rescinded the cancellation and the field trip was back on.

Changala said plenty of chaperones and teachers were on hand for supervision this time. Kamberg said the kindergartners -- oblivious to the controversy -- enjoyed the visit.

TULARE FAIR: The Tulare County Fair soon will be recruiting a new CEO.

CEO Geoff Hinds tendered his resignation Oct. 16.

Fair board president Pete Alvitre said Hinds kept costs down. He will stay temporarily to prepare a budget and help with the transition.

CONFERENCE BOOMS: The only farmworker women's conference in California is getting more popular each year.

About 1,000 people are expected to attend the 10th annual Farmworker Women's Health, Safety, Education & Environmental Conference on Friday, which has been moved to the Tulare County fairgrounds to make room for everyone, said Lali Moheno of Visalia, who organized the first one.

Topics include sexual harassment in the fields, heat and water issues, clean restrooms and other issues. The extreme makeover event is always popular.

Guest speaker Christine Baker, director of the Department of Industrial Relations, is the first woman and the first person of Hispanic descent to hold the job.

Information: lmoheno@sbcglobal.net.