School Lunch Lady Fired for Giving Student a Free Meal

A school lunchroom worker in Idaho recently lost her job after she gave a hungry student a free lunch.

The woman, Dalene Bowden, says she was “fired for having a heart” while others say she simply broke the rules and is facing the consequences.

Bowden says she gave the 12-year-old student the free meal because the girl told her she was hungry and couldn’t afford a lunch, according to a DailyMail article.

“I’m not apologizing and I would do exactly the same thing again regardless of the consequences,” Bowden wrote on a GoFundMe page she started after being fired (she has since been offered her job back, according to the East Idaho News). “I love my job. I really do. 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.”

Bowden apparently offered to pay the school back $1.70 for the lunch but school officials refused. Having a heart apparently also got her in trouble in the past, when she gave a student a free cookie, DailyMail reports.

According to the Idaho State Journal, a district spokesperson says students who exceed an $11 charge limit are given an alternative meal – like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich – and their parents are notified. Bowden told the newspaper that after kids exceed the limit, workers are supposed to take away their tray and dump it, according to the article.

Support for Bowden is growing and her GoFundMe page has more than $21,000 in donations. The former lunch lady plans to use the money to pay for a lawyer in an effort to get the rules changed.

Parents are also rallying behind Bowden. One mother at the school, Raushelle Guzman, started an online petition to get Bowden reinstated.

“I think (Bowden) did the right thing and I think we need to make sure that every child that wants lunch can have lunch,” Guzman told the Idaho Statesman in a recent article. “I think the district’s policy needs to be changed. We do not need to humiliate or demean any child or worker in that situation.”

Not everyone is convinced the lunch lady did exactly the right thing, though.

“She was right to give the girl a meal but she should have put her own $1.70 in the til for it, before anyone said something or ‘caught’ her,” user Kat wrote in a comment on the DailyMail story. “Then it wouldn’t be stealing and the child would have a meal. Employers can’t split hairs with what dollar amount or situation is acceptable to break the rules, you have to draw a line.”

Another reader, Kcsimon, commented in support of Bowden: “Everything happens for a reason and I hope after all of this she is offered countless jobs where her good heart will be rewarded.”

As a parent, I can only sympathize with Bowden and hope that she succeeds in her quest to have the rules changed – first and foremost removing any rule that states a child’s lunch tray would ever be “dumped” if they can’t pay. I truly hope there’s some misunderstanding and this isn’t really a school policy.

Obviously, districts should have a process in place where cafeteria workers can (privately) let school officials know if a student is repeatedly asking for a free lunch and isn’t in the free/reduced lunch program. The school could then address the issue – whether it’s forgetfulness or income – privately and discreetly. An issue with a child’s payment should never cause them to be publicly set apart in any way or denied the same meal that everyone else is getting.

Some readers point out that an “alternative” meal is often offered for kids who can’t pay for lunch, but what about the potential humiliation involved in being given the “other” lunch? It’s unacceptable. Parents should demand better, even if they don’t think their own kids will ever face that issue.

Lunchroom aides shouldn’t have to choose who gets a lunch or what lunch they get. Until the rules are changed, it’s up to lunch ladies like Bowden to stand up for what’s right. Isn’t that exactly the type of person you’d want working in your child’s school?

What do you think of the situation? Tell us in the comments.

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