An Idaho school cafeteria worker could be getting her job back after she was fired just days before Christmas for giving a hungry 12-year-old girl a free meal.
The Pocatello/Chubbuck School District bowed to intense pressure and offered Dalene Bowden her previous position at Irving Middle School, the Idaho State Journal reports. Bowden was fired after giving a $1.70 meal to the girl, who said she didn’t have enough money to pay for lunch.
Bowden’s story went viral after she posted her termination letter to Facebook, leading to an online petition and fundraising effort. She has not yet decided if she will return to her job, the State Journal reports.
“I have to think about it,” Bowden told the newspaper. “I’m afraid that they would just make my life miserable and then try to set me up, or get rid of me some other way.”
The popular lunch lady said she offered to pay for the meal out of her own pocket, but she was still fired.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. She Was Sent Home After Her Supervisor Saw Her Give the Girl the Meal
Dalene Bowden says the incident occurred on December 15. The 12-year-old girl told her she was hungry and didn’t have any money.
“So I handed her the food and said here we’ll take care of it in a minute,” Bowden told KPVI-TV. She says her supervisor saw what she did and sent her home.
“He said I was on permanent leave until he called me. I should not call them he will call me. And they never called me… then I got the letter,” Bowden told the news station.
In the letter, posted to Facebook by Bowden, the district says she was fired for violating school board policy and school food service policy.
“The reason for your termination is due to your theft-stealing school district or another’s property and inaccurate transactions when ordering, receiving and serving food,” the letter, signed by Susan Pettit, director of human resources, says. “Consequently, because of the nature of your actions, the District will not be maintaining your employment in any capacity.”
Bowden said in her Facebook post that “they couldn’t even include my last check.” The district says she will be paid within 10 days of receiving the letter.
2. Bowden Says She ‘Got Fired for Having a Heart’
Bowden wrote on a GoFundMe page that she loved her job, and was loved by her students:
This just breaks my heart, and I was in the wrong, but what do you do when the kid tells you that they’re hungry, and they don’t have any money? I handed her the tray. :ast year during an assembly, I got a standing ovation from the students when my name and photo came up on the screen, I love them, and they all love me, too. That’s probably why the girl came to me when she didn’t have any money.
“I got fired for having a heart,” she wrote.
3. More Than 86,000 Signed a Petition for Her to Get Her Job Back
A petition started by a local parent has received more than 86,000 signatures as of December 24.
“This kitchen aid deserves to keep her job! Lunch room policies should prioritize kindness and making sure kids receive a nutritious lunch so they can be ready to learn,” wrote Raushelle Goodin-Guzman, who started the petition. “The policy is wrong! We need to change the policy or change the people making them!”
She added that the situation could have been handled more compassionately, “They could allow the child to work in the kitchen or cleaning/ wiping down tables in the cafeteria or possibly staying after games to pick up trash in order to earn their lunch if their balance is exceeded. We do not need to humiliate or demean any child or worker in the situation. Students must be provided with an adequate meal.”
4. A GoFundMe Account Has Raised More Than $18,000 for Bowden
A GoFundMe account started by Bowden raised more than $18,000 as of December 24.
Bowden says she is a breast cancer survivor and has worked for the school district for three years.
“I admits I broke the rules, but I’m not apologizing and I would do exactly the same thing again regardless of the consequences,” Bowden wrote on the GoFundMe page.
Bowden wrote that she wants to “fight back” and hopes to get enough money to hire a lawyer.
5. The Superintendent Says They ‘Didn’t Take a Meal Away From a Child’
Despite the outrage online, the school district has not commented much on the matter, saying they do not comment on specific personnel matters.
But interim superintendent Douglas Howell told the Idaho State Journal that a child was not deprived of lunch.
“We didn’t take a meal away from a child,” Howell told the newspaper.
Howell said that if a student doesn’t have money, they can charge the meal. The girl still had room in her $11 account. The district says even if the student doesn’t have any money on the account, and parents do not pay the money owed, the student will still be given a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and milk.
Pocatello officials said they have received numerous calls and emails to city hall about Bowden’s firing. Mayor Brian Blad issued a statement on Wednesday saying the city is separate from the school district:
We’d like to thank everyone who has taken an interest in Pocatello recently; we just wish it were under better circumstances. We’d like to remind everyone that the situation involving Dalene Bowden was handled by officials with Pocatello/Chubbuck School District 25 and no city elected officials or employees were involved in the decision making process. While we both operate in the same community, the district and City government are two separate entities in Pocatello.
Mayor Blad and the city feel this is an extremely unfortunate situation. Despite being separate jurisdictions, Mayor Blad is actively trying to get a meeting with the superintendent of Pocatello/Chubbuck School District 25 to discuss how this situation has impacted our community as a whole.