I Lost My Job For Refusing To Throw Away a School Meal a Child Couldn't Pay For

The federal regulations are wrong, and I will never feel bad about feeding a child.
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The federal regulations are wrong, and I will never feel bad about feeding a child.

I was fired from my position as a kitchen manager at an elementary school last May. 

I was fired for giving away food that had not been paid for – cause for immediate termination according to district policy. I bucked my employer’s policy for children who did not have enough money in their account to purchase a whole meal. 

The policy was to take the hot food away from the child, throw it in the trash, and replace it with a slice of American cheese on a hamburger bun and a small carton of milk. I didn’t do that, I allowed the child to take the meal, I got caught, and I was fired.

That night I wrote a Facebook post (available only to my friends) about my termination. I said that I knew they were just following policy but that the policy was wrong. 

The federal regulations are wrong, I said, and I will never feel bad about feeding a child. It was a way for me to work through my feelings about being fired, something I’d never experienced before, and a way to let my friends know what was going on.

One of those friends is a reporter and she forwarded the story on to CBS4, thinking they might be interested. On Monday I received a phone call from their reporter, saying he wanted to do an interview. 

I hadn’t planned on it, but I realized that here was a chance to educate people on how school lunch works and where the cracks and inequities lie. I thought I could get some local interest, maybe get some parents interested in making changes. I did the interview. It ran at 10 pm and I thought nothing more of it.

The next morning I awoke to over 100 Facebook messages, 219 friend requests and a phone that would not stop ringing. My story hit a nerve and exploded. My sister texted that I was on Huffpost, my dad called to say I was on MSN, my former brother-in-law was getting calls from reporters. 

I had no idea what to do. How does anyone know what to do in that situation? Even though I have spent all my life fighting for social justice, from the playground on up, I never believed I could affect that much of the world around me. After all my years of tilting at windmills, to have the world take notice was overwhelming, exhilarating, exhausting and a little frightening.

By Wednesday afternoon I had done countless phone interviews, a Skype interview with Jake Tapper of CNN (he is awesome) and my daughter and I were winging our way to New York City to appear on Good Morning America. Message boards and blogs were blowing up, my story was on the news in Germany, Australia and China. I was asked to write an OpEd for the Washington Post

People recognized me in the airport, at our hotel, in restaurants. I did my GMA interview and came home thinking that I could really make a change, I could FIX this!

Here’s where the dark side of "going viral" set in. There was no way I could control all the misinformation out there – some of it completely made up – all the misquotations, all the opinions based on wrong facts. I couldn’t control my former employer going out of their way to smear me. I was either a gold-plated saint or a lying, thieving sinner. On the Internet, there is no in between. There is no room to simply be human: part bad, trying to be good. 

As someone who holds the truth in incredibly high regard, it was so hard to see all the falsehoods being circulated. It was even harder to have the constant input. I would have to physically turn my phone and computer off and remove myself from the house to get away from the phone calls, messages, emails etc.

The news cycle passed, everyone moved on to Rachel Dolezal and I had to confront the reality of our ADHD society. 12,000 people signed a Moveon.org petition for me to get my job back (which I appreciate greatly, although I don’t want to return to my former position), yet I had to beg and plead to get anyone to physically come to a school board meeting and ask for actual change. 

My posts on my Facebook page have gone from reaching tens of thousands to maybe a hundred. I am still searching for work. I have never denied that I broke policy, nor have I claimed to have been fired unjustly, but to have to choose between morals and a paycheck is a tough thing. 

Everyone assumed that I would have countless job offers. That did not happen – I have found that employers are wary of both my notoriety and the fact that I broke procedure. 

I continue to believe I can make a change and have become an advocate for the Community Eligibility Provision (how Baltimore and other cities are feeding every kid free of charge) but I know now that change comes slowly and grudgingly.

Two months later, I am a little bit older and much wiser. I am wary of giving out my personal information in any situation; I guard my privacy more than I ever thought necessary. 

When asked to give my home address while addressing the school board I panicked – I didn’t want that to be public record. We moved right before this happened, and I have yet to officially update my address. My self-esteem has improved and also taken a beating at the same time. 

I stand by my decisions, both before and after my firing, and because of that I walk tall. I have had some of the most amazing people find their way into my life from this, and I have had some friends leave. 

My goal hasn’t changed, and my opinions haven’t wavered, but now I have to find a way to engage a populace that has moved on to the latest scandal. My advice to anyone who finds themselves in my situation is to enjoy the ride and know that it will not last. Don’t say or do anything you don’t want shown to the whole world, and when it gets to be too much, walk away.