Georgia bus driver and father Johnny Cook has said he merely wanted to “bring awareness” to the problem of students going hungry at Haralson County Schools. Instead, he was fired from his job.
In late May, after a sixth-grade student told Cook that he had been denied lunch because he was 40 cents short, Cook voiced his concerns on Facebook.
"This child is already on reduced lunch and we can't let him eat. Are you kidding me? … The next time we can't feed a kid for forty cent, please call me. We will scrape up the money,” Cook wrote, in part, on May 21.
Just two days later, Cook was fired over that post.
According to Superintendent Brett Stanton, Cook violated the school’s social media policy by weighing in on the issue, reports CBS Atlanta. The policy says that staff “who post or contribute any comment or content on social networking sites that causes a substantial disruption” in the school is subject to termination.
In the weeks that followed, public support for the bus driver surged. His Facebook post was shared more than 2,000 times and a Change.org petition asking authorities to give Cook his job back gained over 12,000 supporters. Nevertheless, the Haralson County school district has stood by its decision.
Stanton also says that the alleged lunch incident never occurred. “I can assure you it did not happen," he told CBS Atlanta. “The video surveillance footage clearly shows that the student never went through the lunch lines at the county middle school."
Cook, however, thinks the student was telling the truth, according to the Times-Georgian. The student in question has even written a letter confirming that he was denied lunch due to lack of funds. Cook shared the letter on his Facebook timeline.
“I sat at a table with no lunch while other children ate lunch. ... No one offered to pay for my lunch and no one offered me a sandwich or a banana or apple," the student wrote in the letter.
In another Facebook post, Cook asked Haralson county students and parents of students if they had ever encountered a similar problem. The post has received over 130 comments to date.
"Two of my four kids have witnessed this at county schools," responded parent Jennifer Sewell.
While the school maintains that it goes to great lengths to make sure every child is fed lunch, Stanton told the Times-Georgian that in response to the incident, the school will review its policies. According to a 2011 survey, student hunger is the third largest problem that elementary school teachers face.