A school bus driver from Georgia was fired from his post late May after making critical comments about the school on Facebook. His post was about a sixth grader who claims he ended up going hungry after he was denied a lunch because he was 40 cents short on the bill.
The incident unfolded on May 21 when the Haralson County Middle School student complained on the bus that he was hungry to driver Johnny Cook. Cook asked why.
In a statement written by the student (Cook has a picture of it on his Facebook page), the sixth grader explained that the lunchroom staff wouldn’t let him charge a meal and none of the other students gave him any of their lunches either.
“No one offered to pay for my lunch and no one offered me a sandwich, banana or an apple,” the student wrote.
The student then recounted how he had been called into Principal Brian Ridley’s office the next day and was asked to explain what happen and to provide the number of the bus he rides. The student did both and was told by Ridley that he “would never go hungry again and to go back to class.”
Cook told the Times-Georgian that the comments the student made on the bus “weighed heavy on my heart …and the more I thought about it, the more upset I got.”
That’s when Cook, from Tallapoosa, took to Facebook and wrote:
“What! This child is already on reduced lunch and we can’t let him eat. Are you kidding me? I’m certian (sic) there was leftover food thrown away today. But kids were turned away because they didn’t have .40 on there account. As a tax payer, I would much rather feed a child than throw it away. I would rather feed a child than to give food stamps to a crack head. (…) the next time we can’t feed a kid for forty cent, please call me. We will scrape up the money. This is what the world has come to.”
As of the end of May, it had more than 155,000 shares, according to CBS Atlanta.
The school system has a policy in place prohibiting staff from posting negative comments about their employer on social media. Cook told the Times-Georgian he wasn’t aware of the policy when he made the comment. Here’s the excerpt from the employee handbook of the policy:
Students who post or contribute any comment or content on social networking sites that cause a substantial disruption to the instructional environment are subject to disciplinary procedures. Employees who post or contribute any comment or content on social networking sites that causes a substantial disruption to the instructional environment are subject to disciplinary procedures up and including termination.
He was told he either had to take back his comment or face termination.
The school said Cook was fired for making derogatory statements about the school. School officials also noted that they has reviewed surveillance footage and believe it can’t find the student going through the lunch line in the first place, attempting to get a meal, in order to corroborate his story.
“The incident, as he described it, simply didn’t happen,” Ridley told the Times-Georgian. “The child didn’t go through the lunch line and never asked for a lunch, so he was never denied one.”
Watch MyFoxAtlanta’s report of the incident:
“Unless a child tells an adult they are hungry and have no money to pay for lunch that day, and they don’t go through the line and tell the lunchroom staff, we have no way of knowing,” Haralson County Schools Superintendent Brett Stanton also noted.
In fact, the school has a system in place to ensure that students who can’t pay — 70 percent of students within the district receive free or reduced lunches, which go for 40 cents — don’t miss a lunch:
School system officials said the system has a policy in place to address lunch accounts that are falling behind. The policy states that if a student has charged his or her lunch twice, the school notifies the parents their child’s fund is empty. On the third charge, a student will receive a cold lunch, or sack lunch, consisting of a sandwich and a milk, until the account is brought back into balance.
Cool told the Times-Georgian he chose not to rescind his comment because he believes the student was telling the truth about being denied a lunch.
“I did apologize for not coming to them first,” Cook told the Times-Georgian. “I probably should have, but I didn’t. I honestly don’t think they want any child to go hungry, but I do think we have problems with our policies.”
The student maintains that he did go through the lunch line with a tray and was denied a lunch based on the status of his account. If this wasn’t the case, why would the student say he was denied a lunch?
“Perhaps kids sometimes say the strangest things. Perhaps the child was looking for extreme sympathy. Perhaps he was, indeed, embarrassed in the lunch room about his financial situation. He could, of course, have been telling the truth,” CNET’s Chris Matyszczyk wrote.
Cook has a Change.org petition with more than 10,500 signatures asking the district to apologize, reinstate him in his position and calling for the superintendent to resign.