Examiner reported Tuesday that a woman was fired for giving a student a free hot lunch worth a buck seventy. Dalene Bowden, the food service worker for District 25 who initially lost her job, has been offered reinstatement after a pouring of social media support and outcry from the local community. Bowden, who offered to pay the $1.70 for the meal she gave away, was not allowed to make reparations and was fired in a letter from the School District that also accused her of theft and inaccurate transactions when ordering, receiving and serving food.
In an interview following receipt of the letter, Bowden said, “…what are you supposed to do when a kid tells you [he or she is] hungry and [does not] have any money?” Apparently, the District thought it was appropriate to throw the child’s lunch in the garbage and send him or her away. However, many District 25 parents and families thought that Bowden had the better idea: feed the child.
Bowden’s story went viral, starting a social media storm including inspiring an online petition in her support, demanding Bowden’s immediate reinstatement at Irving Middle School. By Wednesday, Pocatello Mayor Brian Blad had weighed in on the controversial firing. Blad met with Interim District 25 Superintendent Doug Howell to discuss the impact of the incident on the city. By 9 PM that night, Pocatello/Chubbuck School District 25 had announced that it was offering to reinstate Bowden to her previous position. Apparently, the city had received dozens of phone calls. Bowden sympathizers were “blowing up” the district’s Facebook and Twitter pages about Bowden’s firing.
Bowden’s story was picked up by byteclay.com, the Daily Mail in the United Kingdom, Fox News, NBC News, “Inside Edition,” TV stations nationwide, Glen Beck’s network, The Blaze, and media throughout Idaho. It was the number one trending Facebook story nationwide. As for the petition started by Raushelle Guzman, more than 71,000 people signed in favor of Bowden’s reinstatement. A gofundme.com project also raised more than $12,000 to help Bowden fund legal action against the district. In a true show of Christmas spirit, an anonymous donor who contributed $500 to the fundraising account, asked Bowden to set up a fund for District 25 students who do not have money for lunch.
Despite the offer of reinstatement, Bowden stated that she had reservations about returning to the job, fearing retaliation from the district as it likely felt forced to react this way against its will. Bowden said, “I have to think about it,… 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.” Hopefully, the same community that stood up for Bowden earlier this week would not allow future intimidation at Bowden’s expense.
In a press release Wednesday night, Superintendent Howell said that although, “State law prohibits school officials from discussing personnel matters… the district has never taken action against an employee for a single incident… Our District … recognizes nutrition is an important part of each student’s education and learning… in addition to the Federal Service Program, the District works directly with the Pocatello office of the Idaho Food Bank and receives and distributes 1,000 packs of food each month to our students.”
Howell confirmed that nearly 6,500 children in District 25 participate in the free and reduced fee lunch programs every day (about 53 percent of all students in the district). However, he countered that the federal food service program has strict regulations, which if not followed, jeopardizes the program. He also stated that, “the school district appreciates the role of food service workers and the relationships that they build with students. And he said effort will be put into making sure that workers can direct students who struggle to the proper resources.”
Examiner reported previously that the student who received the free lunch was well within her $11 lunch credit limit. Apparently, she was unaware of her available balance and was too “afraid and embarrassed to ask” about it. Thus, the firing should literally never have happened. Now, District 25 wants to be credited with finding “… the spirit of the holidays,” since it voted to give Bowden her job back.. At least they found it before Christmas.