One of my other courses in my graduate studies this semester is a legal issues class - so my mind is on legal issues as well. I was unfamiliar with this case until I did some digging for this class, and it is an important case when it comes to establishing what colleges and universities must do to accommodate students with food allergies, particularly in dining services.
The first food allergy-related settlement in higher education under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was reached between Lesley University in Massachusetts and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) in December of 2012. According to the Department of Justice, "Lesley University previously required all students living on campus to participate in, and pay for, its meal service plan - even if some students with severe allergies could not eat the food available through the plan without risk of illness" (Department of Justice, 2013).
Terms of Settlement:
Under the Agreement, Lesley University made adjustments to its meal plan to allow students with food allergies to safely access all of its food services. Lesley University was also required to consider a policy that exempts students from the mandate requiring a meal plan for those who cannot take full advantage due to a disability.
According to the DOJ, "the agreement ensures that students with food allergies and celiac disease can fully access the university’s meal plans and food services" (2013). Colleges and universities must understand that food allergies are considered a disability under the American with Disabilities Act and plan accordingly. Failure to accommodate students with severe, life threatening food allergies opens the institution up to lawsuits and legal action.
As food allergies continue to rise and the number of students with identifies food allergies on campus grows, higher education institutions will need to closely examine policies that might possibly exclude a student with a food allergy. These policies could exist not only in dining services, but residential and academic settings as well. It would be prudent to examine and update policy now before numbers increase and the food allergy epidemic becomes more difficult to manage on college campuses. It is my stance, from a legal perspective, that it is better to be proactive rather than reactive.
For more information I encourage you to read the Questions and Answers Document released by the Department of Justice about this settlement.
Department of Justice (2013). Questions and answers about the Lesley University agreement and potential implications for individuals with food allergies. Retrieved from https://www.ada.gov/q&a_lesley_university.htm
My name is Brittany Dye, and I am a food allergy mom and a graduate student in higher education administration at Middle Tennessee State University. These two parts of my world have collided, and I am passionate about successful food allergy management in higher education.