POCATELLO — Last week, Dalene Bowden, a food service worker at Irving Middle School, was placed on leave after she gave a free hot lunch to a 12-year-old girl who said she was hungry and didn’t have any money.
Bowden has now received a registered letter from the Pocatello/Chubbuck School District informing her that she has been fired.
The brief, one-page letter was signed by District 25 Director of Human Resources Susan Petit. It states that Bowden was dismissed due to her theft of school district property and inaccurate transactions when ordering, receiving and serving food.
Bowden’s story garnered hundreds of comments on social media and an online petition was launched Saturday demanding that Bowden be reinstated as a lunch lady at Irving.
Bowden said she offered to pay for the $1.70 lunch, but her supervisor rejected her offer. And she was placed on termination leave last Tuesday pending a meeting with the District 25 School Board.
District School Board member Jacob Gertsch declined to comment on Bowden’s termination Monday, calling it a personnel matter. And administrators could not be reached.
“This is just breaking my heart,” Bowden said. “And they couldn’t even bother to put my check in with the letter.”
The letter states that Bowden will be paid within 10 days.
Raushelle Guzman, of Pocatello, started an online petition hoping to convince the district to rehire Bowden. As of Monday, more than 1,800 people had signed the online petition.
Guzman said she doesn’t know Bowden, but she does have two children who attend District 25 schools.
“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 said. “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. Students must be provided with an adequate meal.”
Bowden has worked for District 25 for the past three years and said she’s never been written up or reprimanded for her job performance. But she said she did receive a verbal warning once for giving a student a free cookie.
She plans to seek legal counsel regarding the termination letter accusing her of theft.
“I broke the rules, but I offered to pay for the meal and I don’t think I deserved to lose my job over it,” Bowden said.
Last week, Interim Superintendent Douglas Howell said District 25 works to make sure children who live in economically disadvantaged homes receive free or reduced hot lunches.
District 25 also participates in the Idaho Foodbank’s weekend backpack program that sends food items home with students in need each Friday.
Shelley Allen, spokeswoman for the district, said last week that students who exceed an $11 charge limit are provided something to eat, such as a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and milk.
Parents are notified once the lunch bill reaches the $11 cutoff.
Bowden said if a child is over the credit limit, workers are supposed to take their tray away and dump it.
“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,” Bowden said.