Dalene Bowden’s response when a 12-year-old at Idaho’s Irving Middle School told her she was hungry but didn’t have any money seemed like a no-brainer: The food service worker gave the girl a free hot meal.
In response, she received a letter of termination that called out her “theft of school district property and inaccurate transactions when ordering, receiving and serving food,” reports the Idaho State Journal.
Bowden says she offered to pay for the $1.70 lunch, but her supervisor wouldn’t accept her money. “I know I screwed up, but what are you supposed to do when the kid tells you that they’re hungry and they don’t have any money?” says Bowden, acknowledging she was once warned about giving a student a free cookie. “This is just breaking my heart.”
Now NBC News reports the school district on Wednesday night issued a press release saying that “in the spirit of the holidays,” it has extended “an opportunity for (Bowden) to return to employment.” The release suggested the termination wasn’t specifically because of the free meal (the Pocatello/Chubbuck School District “has not ever taken negative employment action against any food service worker due to a singular event of this nature”). But it cites state law as barring it from “commenting on the specifics regarding personnel matters.”
A petition pressing the district to rehire Bowden had some 78,000 supporters as of Thursday morning. Bowden, who has worked for the district for three years, tells the Journal she’ll have to carefully consider the offer. “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,” she says. (It’s deja vu all over again.)