Parents Want More Bilingual Help At School

Education: One-fourth of the students at a Tarzana school speak little or no English. Parents say the resulting chaos ruins the learning environment.

Parents of children attending a Tarzana elementary school complained to the Los Angeles school board Tuesday that a shortage of Spanish-speaking teachers and aides is creating a climate of chaos, saying Spanish-speaking children disrupt classrooms because they cannot understand the teachers.

About a quarter of the 760 students attending Wilbur Avenue Elementary School are bused from crowded inner-city schools and speak little or no English, parent Malka Tasoff said. The school has 14 bilingual classes but employs only two bilingual teachers and four bilingual aides, she said.

“We want more bilingual teachers and more bilingual aides,” Tasoff said.

Without a bilingual teaching staff, English-speaking children spend most of their time helping others learn English, the parents told the board.

“My daughter first tries to explain, then to demonstrate and finally to teach the other children herself,” said Garrie Katznelson. “As a result, her test scores are going down. This is not right, and this is not fair for any of the children at that school.”

Her husband, Steve, said that children from the predominantly white, middle-class neighborhood surrounding Wilbur have suffered headaches, stomach aches, bouts of asthma and sleeplessness since the beginning of the school year because of language problems in many classrooms.

School board President Jackie Goldberg said the district “is recruiting heavily” and offered a $5,000 bonus this year to attract bilingual teachers but still lacks two-thirds of the teachers needed to handle growing numbers of Spanish-speaking students.

Goldberg told the parents that neighborhood schools in less crowded areas of the district, such as the West San Fernando Valley, must accommodate students from more crowded areas where classroom seats are unavailable.

“This is not a situation of choices until we build more schools,” Goldberg said. “We are out of space, pure and simple.”

Board member Julie Korenstein, who represents the area, told parents that the district would investigate whether the school can hire more bilingual aides to assist classroom teachers.

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