(UPDATED, 11:59 a.m., with statement from the district.)
The Pocatello-Chubbuck School District reversed course Wednesday night, offering middle school cafeteria worker Dalene Bowden her old job back.
The move came just days after the district fired Bowden, after she had served a $1.70 lunch to an Irving Middle School student who didn’t have money for the meal. The firing had drawn intense media attention and triggered a backlash on social media.
In a news release Wednesday night, the district said it did not, and does not, discipline cafeteria workers “due to a singular event,” such as allowing one student to eat without paying. But the district of this nature announcing it would reinstate Bowden. However, the district also backtracked from its decision to dismiss Bowden.
“In the spirit of the holidays, Superintendent (Douglas) Howell advises that the district has been in communication with Ms. Bowden extending an opportunity for her to return to employment with the district,” the district said in its release.
Contacted minutes after the news release was issued, Bowden told the Idaho State Journal she hadn’t heard word from the district.
“I have to think about it,” Bowden told the Journal. “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.”
Here’s the district’s news release, in full:
During the last few days, comments on Facebook and other articles have raised concern over reports of a Food Service employee and a student who received a free meal. The Pocatello/Chubbuck School District by Idaho law (33-518 and 74-106), is prohibited from commenting on the specifics regarding personnel matters. Therefore, the District has remained silent regarding the matter. However, generally speaking, the District wishes to let the public know that it does not and has not ever taken negative employment action against any food service worker due to a singular event of this nature as is being presented through the press and various social media sites.
During this holiday season, emotions and feelings abound in the spirit of giving and looking after the needs of others. The District works daily to help children who are hungry, who need healthcare, who are homeless and who are neglected and/or abused.
One of the ways the District helps children who are hungry is to insure that every student has an opportunity to take full advantage of programs offered under the Federal Food Service Program. Under this program students may receive meals at school, prepared by food service workers. The program also provides “free or reduced price” meals for children who qualify under specific income guidelines. The District encourages families to submit student eligibility applications for this program to ensure children get food during the school day. The Pocatello/Chubbuck School District’s participation rate for feeding enrolled students averages 53%, or approximately 6,500 students daily.
The Federal Food Service Program is highly regulated and controlled. The School District nor the Board or any other employee determine those regulations. Every meal is accounted for by federal guideline, meal production counts are recorded, and records are reviewed for compliance. The District jeopardizes it’s funding for the Federal Food Service Program if its employees do not follow the proper procedures and requirements. Just in the past two weeks, the District underwent a State of Idaho review of its
Food Service Program and received many commendations for maintaining and regulating the school’s local program to the highest standards. The Healthy Choice of fruits and vegetables offered by the District was recommended to showcase on the State’s website for outstanding “success stories” and a model for other districts to consider for implementation.
Our District focuses on the success of every student and 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. Additionally, throughout the year and more so at this time of year, most schools participate in canned food drives with several tons of food collected for local families. Opportunities to serve and give are extended to students and staff with District Social Workers and Community Resource workers distributing food and other nonperishable items to assist families and children in need.
On behalf of the District we wish to recognize the efforts of our food service staff, schools, students and patrons and the Board of Trustees that make a positive difference in the lives of children in our community. Upon return from the holiday break the District will provide our food service staff with additional training on the various ways to get help for hungry children and the importance of the District’s compliance with various state and federal mandates associated with the Federal Food Service Program.
In the spirit of the holidays, Superintendent Howell advises that the District has been in communication with Ms. Bowden extending an opportunity for her to return to employment with the District.