A school cafeteria worker allegedly fired after she gave a hungry student a free lunch has been offered her job back, the Idaho school district involved said.
Dalene Bowden, a server at Irving Middle School in Pocatello, told NBC affiliate KPVI in Idaho that she gave a hot meal to a 12-year-old girl with no lunch money who said she was hungry on Dec. 15.
“I handed her the food and said, ‘Here, we’ll take care of it in a minute,”‘ Bowden told the station. She said she then offered to pay the $1.70 cost of the lunch.
Instead, her supervisor placed her on leave, according to Bowden. On Monday, she received a registered letter from the Pocatello/Chubbuck School District informing her she had officially been fired for theft of school property, according to the Idaho Statesman.
Bowden’s firing sparked outrage on social media. A petition calling for her job to be reinstated had nearly 74,000 signatures as of Thursday morning.
The school district declined to address the specifics of Bowden’s case, citing prohibitions against commenting on personnel matters, suggested Bowden was not fired only for serving one student a free meal.
The school district “does not and has not ever taken negative employment action against any food service worker due to a singular event of this nature,” it said in a statement.
However, it added that “in the spirit of the holidays…the district has been in communication with Ms. Bowden, extending an opportunity for her to return to employment,” it said in a statement.
Study after study has found that hungry children perform worse at school. According to the National Education Association, missing meals affect a child’s academic performance and behavior in school, and hungry children are more likely to repeat a grade, be tardy for school, or miss school.