Seeing the whole story

School cafeteria employee fired, then rehired, for doing "the right thing." But was her solution to a problem the right one?

There was an interesting story in the New York Daily News last Saturday about a woman in a suburban St. Louis school district who was fired from her job as a cafeteria worker because she was caught giving away free lunches to a child she deemed to be needy.

Chartwells, the company hired to manage foodservice for the Webster Groves School district, let Dianne Brame go after a colleague informed on her. Brame has told a local TV station that she had been giving the fourth grader a hot meal for two months after his eligibility had expired. The district’s rule for children in such situations is to give them a cheese sandwich and carton of milk.

Of course, once details of the incident came out, Chartwells backtracked and gave Brame her job back. People responding to the article online praised the employee and castigated the coworker who ratted her out.

But in all the comments I read, there was one that jumped out at me, perhaps because when I read the article I thought the same thing. The writer asked why someone didn’t visit the child’s family and straighten the situation out. “Ignoring a situation which needs help is not helping,” the person added.

In the Daily News article, Brame was quoted as saying that the boy’s mother doesn’t speak English and may not have understood the paperwork required to qualify for a free or reduced price meal. But nowhere does it state whether Brame brought the situation to the attention of her bosses or the district’s administrators.

That’s the missing element to the story. What was done to restore the family’s eligibility, assuming they indeed qualified for the USDA’s program. Based on the information in the article, Chartwells was within its rights to fire the woman for violating policy; Brame acknowledged as much in the article. The district must account for the USDA-subsidized meals it serves, and so Brame could have put the district’s reimbursement at risk.

There is no doubt Dianne Brame has a big heart and a whole lot of empathy. But sneaking meals to a child wasn’t quite the way to solve this problem.

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