Off to College with Food Allergy?

It’s hard to believe that our son, Morgan, is a senior in high school already! The topic of college is coming up frequently in our house. We continue to learn more and more about what information and laws are available for students with food allergies in college.



The Food Allergy Research Education (FARE) website has minimal information on sending your child with food allergy to college. They have two pages of info  here and here.

I can’t find anything about the Lesley University settlement and how it pertains to food allergic students from any of the major food allergy non-profit groups. The Lesley University settlement was initiated “around October 2009, <when> the United States Department of Justice (“United States”) received a complaint alleging that Lesley University (“Lesley” or the “University”) violated Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, 42 U.S.C. §§ 12181-12189 (“ADA”) by failing to make necessary reasonable modifications in policies, practices, and procedures to permit students with celiac disease and/or food allergies (collectively “food allergies”) to fully and equally enjoy the privileges, advantages, and accommodations of its food service and meal plan system.”

The University was requiring students to purchase a meal plan, yet the school had no way to safely feed the students. The Department of Justice determined that the University was in violation of the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) and mandated that they accommodate students on special diets. This settlement has implications for all colleges and universities, especially that celiac disease and food allergies can be considered a disability as defined by the ADA.

The National Foundation for Celiac Awareness has a great 2013 College Student Toolkit that explains the impact of the Lesley University settlement on students with celiac disease.

We’ve learned a few things in an attempt to find the ‘right college’ for Morgan. First off, he wanted a specific Engineering degree (Computer Science), so that helped him to narrow his choices. Then, we started visiting a few schools.

We learned that it’s important to contact the University/College Disability Services Office (or whatever that office is called at a particular school) as a starting point. The timing of this contact may be best AFTER the student is admitted into the school. We have found that dealing directly with the Housing and/or Dining Services office might yield incorrect/unlawful suggestions.

In other words, the Housing Manager at a Colorado school that we visited told our family that it wouldn’t be possible for our son to have a dorm room free of his allergens as a requirement/accommodation. My contact at the Office of Civil Rights stated that this is incorrect. A ‘reasonable accommodation’ (which is the standard that colleges are held to, not FAPE-Free Appropriate Public Education) would be an allergen-free dorm room.

You can also find out general information from the Housing and Dining Offices that would be pertinent to your child attending college: if cafeterias routinely post ingredient lists, whether their cafeteria workers receive any training about food allergies, whether the kitchen can accommodate special requests, if the dorm rooms have air conditioning (for students with asthma), whether refrigerators, microwaves or air purifiers are allowed in dorm rooms, whether freshman are allowed to live in an apartment rather a dorm. The list goes on and on – we know that there are specific items that Morgan wants in order to maintain his health and safety, and we asked each school our questions about the specifics.

We found that specifying accommodations is best left to the drafting of a written document with the Disability Service Office. Sadly, though, some of these offices have never dealt with a student with food allergies. You, the parent, and your child may be training them about what to do with food allergies.

Lastly, most Universities/Colleges that I’ve asked will not allow their staff/employees to administer an epinephrine autoinjector. Their only step is to call 911. The student will be either “on their own” or will have to rely upon training their friends to respond during an anaphylaxis episode. This is an important question to ask when you visit a college, and then determine how comfortable you and your child are with their answer!

Morgan has yet to decide where he’s going to attend college. We’ll keep you updated on his choice!

10 thoughts on “Off to College with Food Allergy?”

  1. Great information…thanks for this. My son is 6, and I’m already stressing over this. I work in higher education– in fact, at an engineering school in NJ. The other morning, I opened the bread box ant the top of the plastic handle had peanut butter smeared on it. Somebody obviously had it on their hands, and then opened the box. To me, the college’s eateries are completely frightening. I know that when the time comes, my son will be an expert at keeping himself safe, but it have it in my mind that he’d best go somewhere local where he can live at home. I have high hopes for the future…I still hope, each year we retest him, that he’ll grow out of it. I also hope for some kind of a doctor seems to feel the “peanut patch,” which is currently running a clinical trial out of Mount Sinai, seems promising. Anyway thanks, again, for posting this– and good luck!

    1. What a great opportunity for you to create awareness about food allergies with your employer!

  2. May I ask what Colorado school you looked at? We live in Boulder and as a resident of the city some of our activities are on campus. We recently attended a birthday party at the CU bowling alley which is opened to the public to rent out lanes. The mom told me they were not allowed to bring outside food and had to order from the food service. We snuck in our own cupcake (my son is only 5) but out of curiosity I looked at the menu from the service. I was so surprised that there were so many peanut butter/nut items on the menu. It almost felt excessive. We are not even thinking of college but my idea was that he attended CU bc it’s my husbands alma mater and we can be near him, HA!

    1. The story above was about CU-Boulder. From what I’ve seen, all colleges are doing better with food allergies – even over the past year. I’m sure by the time your son gets to college, everything will be much different!

  3. Thanks Nicole for this info. My son & I are currently visiting colleges & universities. One of my first questions are of course about his safety both in the dorm & dinning. We currently visited UNH in Durham NH. They said they would put him in a room with a roommate that either has the same allergies or someone that would not eat the foods he is allergic to(I hope that would be the case). They also have single rooms but he wants to have the college dorm experience roommate & all. The food part was a big plus. One of the dinning areas they have they cater to food allergies. The kitchen is set up separate & they have pans & equipment that is only used in this area. You can call in ahead to have special meals made also, That put this school to the top of our list. Cameron like Morgan is also interested in Computer Science so we are only looking at schools that offer this program. It is not an easy thing to send them off to school and not have control of their diet but on the other hand they do need to take control of their allergies. I would love to see how this works for Morgan as we are only 1 year behind your adventures.

  4. Our son is graduating this Spring.
    After a bad experience at one university- he transferred. At UARTS
    they allowed him a single room with
    Mini fridge/sink/ we supplied fridge fireman grill/
    Microwave. They waived the mandatory meal plan,
    Though this was dorm housing.
    He stuck a sign on his dirm room as it was a single
    Saying. “Knock on the door . I’m new !”
    As he wouldn’t be mixing with kids in the cafeteria .
    He made friends. & the following year
    Moved I to an apartment with three other
    Boys. He has his own pits /pans/dishes
    & each roommate understands about his
    Peanut allergy 🙂
    Truth be told, he ended up finding. “Safe
    Eateries ” & mostly eats out ( though he dies
    Grocery shop & eats sandwhiches , cereal ,
    Eggs- easy stuff at his place .)
    Knowing how to cook is important. & though
    Not a gourmet- he actually hosted a dinner party
    For his friends. He did all the cooking .

    The key we learned to feeling secure in eating
    Was to ask for what your student needs . He
    Didn’t like being at the mercy if the cafeteria
    Cooks- living on his own gave him freedom. & self- confidence.

  5. What schools have been found most accommodating to allergies, particularly engineering schools? I’m a high school senior with Celiac’s looking at engineering schools. Where can I find the written document stating that an allergen free dorm is a reasonable accommodation and necessary?

    1. Accommodations in college are based upon a standard of “reasonable”. Therefore, it will be up to a team of individuals at the college to determine if an allergen free dorm is a reasonable accommodation for you. I’d suggest you obtain a letter from your physician detailing what will be necessary for you to safely attend college. You will also need to complete your school’s Disability Services Office paperwork. I have written many blog posts on the topic of college and food allergies. Check out the links on the left side of my website. Thanks!

Comments are closed.