Your interactions with your child’s school bus driver might be pretty short-lived: you’ll greet them as they pull up to the stop or open the door to let your kid hop aboard, and that’s about it. But bus drivers aren’t just chauffeurs; they’re people who truly care for the children they transport.
One Georgia bus driver proved this when a young passenger shared heartbreaking news with him. The driver was struck by what he heard, and he took action the only way he knew how. Unfortunately, it didn’t end well for him…
Though Johnny Cook, a veteran bus driver for Haralson County Middle School in Georgia, had already finished his route for the day, he couldn’t stop replaying something in his mind that had happened earlier at work.
As he worked with the horses on his property, he kept thinking about something that one of his usual bus riders had said. The student told Johnny that he was hungry, but he was 40 cents short for lunch that day. Instead of putting it on a tab or forgiving the difference, the school denied him a meal.
Johnny was shocked. To him, it was inhumane that a child could actually be denied lunch—especially at an institution that’s meant to support children and help them thrive. His conscience wouldn’t let him rest, so he took to Facebook…
In a status update, Johnny told his friends and family of the situation, and then shared his shock and dismay. “Huh! What!” he wrote. “This child is already on reduced lunch and we can’t let him eat?” The message continued…
“As a tax payer,” Johnny wrote, “I would much rather feed a child than throw [leftover food] away. I would rather feed a child than give food stamps to a crack head [sic].” His message was a simple one—but the repercussions were enormous.
At first, Johnny’s post received engagement beyond what he’d imagined. “About 200 people hit it, liked it, loved it—did all the things that Facebook does,” he told CNN. “And it just caught fire.” The next day, though, he found his post had irked the wrong people.
It was early the next morning when the school’s superintendent, Brett Stanton, summoned Johnny for a meeting. He’d had seen Johnny’s post on Facebook, and some of the details, he noticed, didn’t line up with the facts…
“I can assure you that [the boy being denied lunch] did not happen,” Stanton later told CNN. In fact, spurred by Johnny’s comments, the superintendent was prompted to further investigate the boy’s claim.
He reported his findings to CNN: “The video surveillance footage clearly shows that the student never went through the lunch lines at Haralson County Middle School.” And if he had? He’d have been offered a bagged lunch.
Perhaps the superintendent felt like the school was being attacked unfairly based on a middle-schooler’s lie, but the fact remained: he couldn’t have those lies blasted on social media. He offered Johnny an ultimatum: remove the Facebook post or be fired.
The potential punishment, of course, might have seemed like a harsh one, but the school district actually had strict rules in regards to social media etiquette. Calling out the school was an affront to its administration. Johnny had a choice to make.
“I felt like in my heart of hearts, the kid was telling me the truth,” Johnny said. “Whether he was, whether he wasn’t—I believed him.” And that made his decision an easy one. He elected to keep his Facebook post.
He wrote an update about his situation on Facebook and people all over the world shared the post over 180,000 times. “I’ve had calls from here to Spokane, Washington… with people saying, ‘This happened to my son. Thanks for standing up.'”
So, who was telling the truth? Had Johnny put his livelihood on the line for a lying middle-schooler? Or was the superintendent’s investigation flawed? CNN reached out to the boy, who remained anonymous throughout the ordeal due to his age.
While he wouldn’t sit down for an interview, the middle school student prepared a statement that began, “On Tuesday, May 21st, I could not eat lunch at school becasuse [sic] I did not have lunch money.”
The note continued, providing more details that corroborated Johnny’s version of the events: “I got on Mr. Johnny’s bus and he asked me what was wrong with me. I told him I did not get to eat lunch because I did not have any money.”
In the end, Johnny didn’t dwell on his decision. “I’m proud that I was able to take a stand where others might not have been able to,” he said. “And that I can maybe—in some little way—cause a change.”
Johnny sat down with CNN to share his story, and while you may not be able to decide who was right in this case, it’s important to consider all sides. It’s nice to know there are people out there who are willing to stand up for children as fiercely as their parents would!
Johnny spoke out for what he believed to be right—and he paid the price for it. It just goes to show that these bus drivers come to love and support the kids they transport enough to put their own jobs on the line!
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