Blog: Latino Ed Beat

Spanish Signs Spark Controversy at Elementary School

School officials should consider the following story a cautionary tale about what happens when a message becomes lost in translation. It also illustrates the importance of educators having adequate Spanish translation services.

The Milford School District in Delaware came under fire recently for several signs posted outside two elementary school playgrounds. In English, they warned that parent or guardian supervision was required for use of the playground equipment and to “play at your own risk.”

In Spanish, they carried a more intimidating message. They informed parents that “un permiso”–a permit–was required to play on the site and warned that violators would be subject to police action.

The signs have been posted for the past year. But they only drew attention when a local radio talk show Dan Gaffney host posted photos of them on his Facebook page.

“I think Milford schools are trying to keep ‘certain ethnic’ people away,” he wrote. “Shame.”

The post stirred up online outrage. As a result, Milford schools superintendent Phyllis Kohel and her husband personally removed them last Sunday.

Kohel called the signs inappropriate and that she understood why people were upset.

“We expect people to use our playgrounds anytime, without any special permission,” she told the Milford Beacon. “That’s what they’re here for.”

Kohel added that at the district’s middle and high school athletic fields, signs in English and Spanish warn that permits are required and violators could be subject to police action. There are no such signs in English at the elementary campuses, however.

“Those signs make sense at soccer sites,” Kohel told The Daily Times. “They don’t make sense at a playground.”

Some residents were disturbed by the incident and worried about the impact on the schools’ relationship with the Hispanic community. About 16 percent of the city’s residents are Latino.

“In that year, I wonder how many Spanish-speaking parents brought their kids to that park, then turned around and left with the feeling that they weren’t wanted,” resident Margaret Reyes told The Daily Times.

How does your school district handle translating information to English to Spanish? Do they use professional translators or bilingual staff?