School lunches have always been terrible, drawing comparisons to prison food and being the subject of generations of children’s playground songs. But in recent years, it has also become a battleground in our nation’s ever-expanding culture war, from debates over the nutritional guidelines, to questions of its economic impact on the federal budget.
One school bus driver recently posted an apocryphal story about a student who told him that he was denied a school lunch because he did not have enough money. Now the bus driver has been terminated and a Facebook firestorm has erupted.
Johnny Cook is a school bus driver in rural Georgia. Or rather he was, until he was terminated last week over a Facebook post he made.
In it, he told the story of a young boy at Harlason County Middle School who got on his bus one afternoon and told him that he was hungry because he had been denied lunch after coming up forty cents short.
Cook’s post read, in part:
“A middle schooler got on my bus this evening and said mr johnny I’m hungry. I said why are you hungry, buddy? Didn’t you eat lunch? He said no sir I didn’t have any money on my account. I said they would let you charge it? No sir.Huh! What! This child is already on reduced lunch and we can’t let him eat. Are you kidding me? I’m certain there was leftover food thrown away today. But kids were turned away because they didn’t have .40 on there account. As a taxpayer, 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.”
Cook’s post was seen as a call for action against a system that could deny a child food. It went viral immediately, and the next day, Cook was called in to speak with school administrators. He was told to remove the post or face termination, and so he chose the latter.
Cook says “I felt like, in my heart of hearts, the kid was telling me the truth. Whether he was, whether he wasn’t, I believed him, so I wasn’t going to recant the story.”
Brett Stanton, Superintendent for the school district, has a different story. According to a review of the claim made by Cook and the boy, the school found no evidence to verify the story. A check of the surveillance video did not show any student being denied lunch on the day in question, and indeed, school policy is that if a child cannot afford a regular lunch, they are provided with a brown bag lunch for free.
Superintendent Stanton says that the grounds for termination are that Cook’s post violated the school district’s social media policy for employees.
The unidentified boy’s family supports Cook’s account of the incident, and the post has been featured on numerous websites since it was first publicized.
Do you think that Johnny Cook should have been terminated because of this post, or do school districts have an obligation to enforce social media content created by their employees? Please share you thoughts with us here.