Important School Lunch Tips For Parents During “Back To School”
Getting children to eat healthy foods requires parents to use equal parts art, science, and magic on a good day. Schools play a major supporting role in students and families making healthy choices. Parents can take important steps during back-to-school that help schools and parents partner all year long to provide healthy meals for children. There are new security issues all families should be aware of, as well.
Carolyn Barton, TCS School Nutrition Services Director, said that students are “eating us out of house and home with salads, yogurt parfaits, and chicken fillets. Lots of delicious food making its way to our lunch tables, and we are glad to see students enjoying these healthy options.”
To make the lunch line a positive experience for students, prepayment is by far the best method, as it removes the chance of late or lost lunch payments. Full details with menus and payment information are online at tcsnc.org/nutrition. Families can also go directly to k12paymentcenter.com and create accounts for their children with some basic information.
To enroll, parents need each child’s student ID number; the cafeteria or school office has this data, and most students know their number. Visit k12paymentcenter.com, and select Transylvania County Schools from the drop down menu. Click on “Register Now” and follow the instructions.
There is a $1.95 bank processing fee, for each online transaction. However, it is still possible prepay by cash or check and save the fee, and those balances will still appear on the website. Parents may also pay by the day, week, month or year. Checks are payable to each child’s school cafeteria.
Barton explained that in addition to prepayment, the “free-and-reduced lunch” application is beneficial for children who gain access to healthy food choices, at no or low cost to their families.
Filling out and returning the application is important for every child, even if families believe they and their child will not qualify. Receiving these forms helps Transylvania County Schools gain access to federal funds for technology, including bandwidth and other items, worth hundreds of thousands of dollars for the school system.
“Providing meals that meet or exceed Institute of Medicine and USDA dietary standards has been a basic commitment in our country for over 50 years. We are pleased to serve every child who comes through the breakfast and lunch lines, as well as those participating in summer and after school programs. We encourage all families to submit these forms for every child, every year.”
Barton added that parents should also make note of a possible security issue, one that is easily resolved through appropriate use of the K12 Payment Center and a working relationship with their schools.
An email sent by the Department of Public Instruction, which described an incident in neighboring Henderson County, has raised awareness across the state of a possible scammer trying to steal a family’s lunch money, literally, by sending a rogue text message.
According to state officials, a Henderson County Public Schools parent reportedly received a text message about their child's lunch balance. That would not be strange, since parents may opt to receive text messages about low balances using K12 Payment Center.
However, the sender asked whether the parent would like to receive a refund or donate to a needy children's fund. That unusual request led the parent to call the central office.
Barton said, “The parent noted that the message showed the wrong balance, but the sender had ‘spoofed’ the school district's phone number, so it appeared to be a legitimate school message. The parent called their School Nutrition Services department, who informed the parent the message was not from HCPS.”
HCPS reportedly didn’t have any additional information, since there was no network threat on their end.
Technology Director Chris Whitlock added that no known network issues had appeared in TCS either. “We don’t have any knowledge of hacks or a breach of security, but wanted to give everybody a heads up just in case we receive similar calls.”
Barton had a reassuring message for parents who use the pre-payment system, whether they pay online or using cash and checks: this system is safe and reliable.
“It’s the wave of the future for parents to be able to pay and monitor their child’s lunch balance, set limits on what they buy at school, and even see what children are buying to help them manage their child’s healthy eating habits, all through a convenient website. These websites are now in use across the nation.
“When we hear of an individual phone being hacked, we don’t all go and return our phones, but we have to remain aware and exercise caution. Proper use of the Payment Center will help parents stay on top of this, including text and email alerts to make sure lunch balances stay positive every day.”
The Payment Center gives parents an option for an email and/or text message to be sent from the website, not from the school system, when their balance dips below a certain amount chosen by the parents. Instead of a school system email address or phone number, the sender for messages about TCS lunch accounts will be clearly marked as “email@example.com.”
Barton also wanted to remind families who are not sure about qualifying for free or reduced lunch, to put a small amount of money on account to start the year. This has the benefit of avoiding lunch balances and follow-ups to collect due bills at the end of the year.
The standard 30-day grace period for students who participated in the free-and-reduced lunch program last year expires on October 3, 2018. Families should be sure to turn in applications as soon as possible for processing to be completed before October 3.
“This helps families avoid running up a charge balance,” said Barton. “Turning in completed applications on time and pre-paying on account have been the best solutions for eliminating lunch charges and any inconvenience to parents or students.”
August 29, 2018