The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) last month announced an agreement with Lesley University in Cambridge, Mass., that requires the school to provide safe meals for students with celiac disease and other food allergies.
The agreement, which falls under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), could prompt other colleges and universities -- especially those requiring students who live on campus to purchase a meal plan -- to upgrade their gluten-free options. (Learn more about how the ADA affects us: Does the Americans with Disabilities Act cover people with celiac disease?)
But will the settlement lead to changes at other places that serve meals, such as restaurants? That's far from clear.
At Lesley University, students who live in the dorms must buy a meal plan. Under the settlement, Lesley University agreed to continually provide ready-made hot and cold gluten-free and allergen-free food options in its dining halls, along with a dedicated allergen-free space in the dining halls to help avoid cross-contamination.
The school also agreed to develop individualized meal plans for students with food allergies, to allow those students to pre-order allergen-free meals, to post signs that identify foods containing specific allergens, and to train staff members about food allergy issues.
As part of the settlement, Lesley University also agreed to pay $50,000 in compensatory damages "to previously identified students who have celiac disease or other food allergies," according to the DOJ.
The ADA prohibits discrimination against individuals who have disabilities "by public accommodations, including colleges and universities, in their full and equal enjoyment of goods, services, and facilities," the DOJ said in announcing the settlement. But could the reach of the ADA extend to, say, restaurants that currently decline to serve gluten-free food?
That's pretty doubtful. Restaurants increasingly accommodate the gluten-free diet voluntarily -- it just makes good business sense these days, with the diet's increasing popularity. But it's hard to extend the case for mandatory gluten-free food from a college meal plan that's required for on-campus students to a restaurant meal that's pretty much strictly optional.
The DOJ settlement likely will prompt other colleges and universities to make better accommodations for gluten-free students, though ... and it should. Some colleges already provide gluten-free food to those who need it, but it's clear from the variety of on-campus dining service reviews over at the Gluten-Free Travel Site that some know what they're doing, while others don't. (See all the reviews: Gluten-Free Dining on College Campuses)
Have you found a college or university that provides great gluten-free meal options? Leave a comment below to spread the word!
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