Editor's note: Every school day, the Aberdeen Public School District serves more than 1,500 students at Central High School, Holgate Middle School and Simmons Middle School.
The same students are responsible for reminding their parents to give them money for those lunches. They are given warnings when balances are low and allowed to purchase two meals on credit from the school.
Students are sometimes denied meals because they do not have money to pay for lunch and have already forgotten money twice before. This is the second year that parents can keep track of the balance of the school lunch money accounts online to avoid such situations.
Sandra Kangas, supervisor of the Child and Adult Nutrition Services office in the South Dakota Department of Education, issued a memo to food service directors across the state suggesting that a policy about charging for meals be established by each district.
When the cashier's system for the school lunch lines were computerized across the Aberdeen Public School District, it was decided that the system would allow for students to borrow two meals from the school district.
Aberdeen Public Schools food service director Susan Nash said it's her goal to get all children fed, but the line has to be drawn somewhere.
"You can find school districts in our nation that are in a world of hurt because the federal government is saying that the general fund is financially responsible for that borrowing," she said.
Middle and high school students in the Aberdeen district are told when their balance is low, usually when there is enough money for two meals. Notes are sent to elementary parents.
When a child goes through the line a third time after already borrowing two meals from the school, their tray is taken. Students must then either call someone to bring money or borrow from their friends.
This is the practice at all schools across the district, Nash said.
"You can't go into any restaurant in town except for ours and borrow for lunch," she said.
It adds up. She said the district loans out about $500 to $600 each day.
Sometimes, those costs are not recovered.
Families who have difficulty paying for school meals can apply for the free and reduced lunch program at any time throughout the school year, Nash said. She sends applications home with children.
"We are understanding of situations and we have people all over the district looking out for the kids," Nash said. "If it's habitual and we know there's not a problem, there's only so much we can do, though."
National School Lunch Program guidelines state that a child can be denied a meal due to an overdrawn account.
Even with funds established like "No Tummy Left Behind," the problem isn't solved.
"It's not a never-ending pool," Nash said.
At the elementary school level, parent-teacher associations have created accounts that lend out money. Envelopes are then sent home to parents of children who have borrowed lunch money so that the funds may be replenished.
"The PTA does a great service by providing that to the elementary schools," she said.
Nash said having middle and high school students remind their parents of their lunch account balances teaches responsibility.
"This is an institution of education and the lunch program is part of the educational process," she said. "It's like teaching children to know that you can't full up at the gas station and not pay for it."
How lunchbox system works
Cash or checks are deposited into the system by the computer operator at the school or through an online system at www.myschoolbucks.com. Deposits made online cost an additional $2 and it may take 24 to 48 hours for the funds to appear. Parents are only charged once, even if deposits are being made to multiple student accounts. Balances can always be checked for free using the site and email alerts can be customized so that parents are reminded when funds are low. Nash recommends using the student's birthday as an identification number.