“The settlement agreement provides a positive road map for other colleges and universities to follow,” Lohse says.
Joan Rector McGlockton of the National Restaurant Association says that restaurants have taken notice of an increasing demand for gluten free options, “drawing attention to the importance of providing these options as well as the preparation methods involved in serving these options.”
The group has a training program for restaurants so they will know what to do when food allergy issues arise.
Some say the Justice Department decision goes too far. Hans von Spakovsky, a fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation who worked in the civil rights division of the Justice Department under President George W. Bush, says food allergies shouldn’t apply under the disability act. He adds that the costs could be substantial when schools are already battling backlash from high tuition costs.
“I certainly encourage colleges and universities to work with students on this issue, but the fact that this is a federal case and the Justice Department is going to be deciding what kind of meals could be served in a dining hall is just absurd,” he says.
Whether the government is involved or not, schools and other food service establishments are likely to hear from those who want more gluten-free foods. Dhanu Thiyagarajan, a sophomore at the University of Pittsburgh, says she decided to speak up when she arrived at school and lost weight because there were too few gluten-free options available. Like Lesley University, the University of Pittsburgh requires that on-campus students participate in a meal plan.
Thiyagarajan eventually moved off campus so she could cook her own food, but not before starting an organization of students who suffer from wheat allergies like hers. She says she is now working with food service at the school and they have made a lot of progress, though not enough for her to move back on campus.
L. Scott Lissner, the disability coordinator at Ohio State University, says he has seen similar situations at his school, though people with food allergies have not traditionally thought of themselves as disabled. He says schools will eventually have to do more than just exempt students from a meal plan.
“This is an early decision on a growing wave of needs that universities are going to have to address,” he says of the Lesley University agreement.
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