HARALSON COUNTY, Ga. -- A metro Atlanta school district is being accused of not providing free lunches to its students in need. When one employee spoke up about it on social media, he lost his job.
Johnny Cook was a middle school bus driver at Haralson County Middle School. On Tuesday, he says, one of his students, who could not afford a reduced lunch, told Cook he was not given any lunch -- not even the free peanut butter sandwich offered to everybody.
"I said, 'So you didn't get to eat at all?'" Cook recalled. "And he said, 'No, I didn't get to eat anything. I had to put my tray back.'"
UPDATE | School: Cafeteria Video Disputes Claim of Bus Driver, Student in School Lunch Complaint
Cook went onto Facebook that night and wrote the following post:
A lil flustered this evening.
A middle schooler got on my bus this evening and said mr johnny im 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 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.
...We will scrape up the money. This is what the world has come to
That post got Cook fired. His post about the firing led to more Facebook comments, including from Haralson County parents revealing cases where their own kids had been refused lunch at a county school.
Superintendent Brett Stanton says Cook never came to the school about the problem. He says the district looked into the incident in question after the fact and found no evidence it occurred.
Stanton also added he has never received a complaint about a student not being given lunch - and he has been there five years.
"I think you're gonna have people that decide, once this is out there, 'Let's jump on the bandwagon,'" Stanton said. "From my perspective, if there's a problem, they need to address it as quickly as possible. If we don't know there's a problem, we can't address it."
"I'm saying there's a problem," said Cook. "Let's look at it, and let's find a solution."
According to Cook, the superintendent gave him a chance to keep his job, but he would have had to delete the Facebook post in question and apologize for it online. Cook refused.