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  • Jefferson Adams
    Jefferson Adams

    Did Colonial Williamsburg Make Gluten-Sensitive Boy Eat Outside in the Rain?

    Reviewed and edited by a celiac disease expert.

    Did Colonial Williamsburg wrongly boot an 11-year-old gluten-senstive boy from one of its restaurants?

    Did Colonial Williamsburg Make Gluten-Sensitive Boy Eat Outside in the Rain? - Colonial Williamsburg. Photo: Joe Ross
    Caption: Colonial Williamsburg. Photo: Joe Ross

    Celiac.com 08/16/2017 - Colonial Williamsburg prides itself on educating both children and adults in the rich history of life in colonial America. That's why claims that Colonial Williamsburg kicked an 11-year-old boy on a school field trip out of one of its restaurants earlier this year are drawing attention and sharp comment.

    The incident happened May 11, during a field trip for about 30 students and 30 adults. The trip, which included a meal at Shields Tavern, was the culmination of a yearlong research project.

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    The boy, identified in court documents only as "J.D.," suffers from a medical condition that prevents him from eating the same food as his classmates, and the restaurant's policy specifically forbids outside food. The lawsuit claims that, even after a teacher tried to persuade the manager to let him stay, the manager forced J.D. out of the restaurant, where he ate his lunch in the rain.

    "J.D. was crying openly as he was removed from Shields Tavern in front of his peers," the lawsuit said. In speaking with management, the teacher learned that the restaurant "permits toddlers to eat outside food, including goldfish and Lunchables inside the restaurant."

    When J.D. eats gluten, he experiences "precipitous drops in blood pressure that result in him losing consciousness," the lawsuit said. "Doctors haven't determined whether it is celiac disease or a "Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity," but multiple specialists at Johns Hopkins have concluded that it is critical J.D. not ingest gluten, even in trace amounts," the suit said.

    "Before his exclusion, J.D. was able to participate fully with his peers with confidence," the suit said. "After his exclusion and because of Defendant's callous and discriminatory conduct, J.D. felt less worthy than other children and embarrassed by his disability."

    The family's attorney, Mary Vargas, said in a statement that "Children with disabilities that require strict adherence to special diets often find themselves on the outside of school parties and social events, but here this child was quite literally removed to the outside in a way that left him feeling humiliated and unworthy."

    She goes on to call the actions by Williamsburg's management "…despicable behavior by any adult but especially by an organization that professes to offer educational programming for children."

    The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages and attorney fees, as well as changes to how Colonial Williamsburg handles people with disabilities.

    The Colonial Williamsburg foundation has declined to comment on the suit.


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    That's not for us to determine or judge, but you're questioning it as if its fraudulent. We were not there, and we don't have all the facts, but yet it appears by the title of this article you have your doubts. We have a court system well equipped to handle such cases, I say let the system let us know what actually happened and then we can form an opinion. Sometimes I really do question what side you're actually on at times.

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    I don't want to believe that people are this crazy. But this is a terrible thing to do to a child. I have had celiac for about 14 years now and it is not fun at all. It is very hard to eat any where besides home and I bring my lunch every day to work, not because I want to but I have to. I always take something to eat where ever I go and have never had a problem with it. People really need to be educated on how bad this stuff effects people. And it is different for everyone. Me I am in the bed for 2 days and can't do anything but run to the bathroom.

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    I was at a ST Louis Bread Company (Panera- as its known in St Louis) three years ago, happily visiting a bunch of family. I asked if they had anything gluten-free, as I had been able to find some things at other Paneras in the past. When the guy found a had celiac disease, he asked me to leave. The manager then came to me and said 'you are not safe in here - please leave. And you should leave now. We make bread here. 'They didn't even want me in the restaurant while my family (not realizing what had happened) started placing their orders. The looks on their faces made me feel like I was a contagious leper. No friendliness whatsoever. I looked at their website before posting this - and I understand their stance the celiacs shouldn't eat their food. But a little compassion or at least kindness would have been appreciated. So unprofessional.

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    Something like this happened to me on July 15 in London, at Covent Garden. I asked a restaurant to sit down and have only a cup of coffee but a nice guy came closer and said that I had to take something to eat. I was very angry but didn't say anything, except that I asked "Have you anything gluten free?". He answered a quinoa salad (that I don´t particularly like) so I went away, very frustrated and upset. I am a celiac, 63 years old from Italy.

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    I am shocked and saddened by the actions of this restaurant in Colonial Williamsburg! As a person with Celiac Disease, it is difficult living with this disease as an adult. It must be twice as difficult for a child. The behavior of the management at Shield´s Tavern is shameful, and I hope they are sued for every penny they have earned.

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    I have a 7 year old granddaughter with celiac and yes, it is very difficult, but doable. You have to plan ahead and always have food with you as you just can´t randomly stop just anywhere. I understand there are places that will tell you it isn't safe for you to be there, like a bakery, with flour particles in the air. (like a peanut allergy at Texas Road House) Places are so afraid of being sued. Just need a lot of education. Williamsburg situation just seems like an uneducated person who poorly handled a situation.

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    I was at a ST Louis Bread Company (Panera- as its known in St Louis) three years ago, happily visiting a bunch of family. I asked if they had anything gluten-free, as I had been able to find some things at other Paneras in the past. When the guy found a had celiac disease, he asked me to leave. The manager then came to me and said 'you are not safe in here - please leave. And you should leave now. We make bread here. 'They didn't even want me in the restaurant while my family (not realizing what had happened) started placing their orders. The looks on their faces made me feel like I was a contagious leper. No friendliness whatsoever. I looked at their website before posting this - and I understand their stance the celiacs shouldn't eat their food. But a little compassion or at least kindness would have been appreciated. So unprofessional.

    I suspect what they saw when they looked at you was a potential lawsuit over gluten exposure. Kind of paranoid if so, but maybe they've been sued before over something else and are kind of "gunshy". Still, a bit of consideration and respect would have been nice.

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    Wow, have we gotten to the point of judgement without facts? Sue them for every penny they have? Yes, this seems like a very unfortunate situation, and most likely I would have been angry for the supposed behavior of the tavern management, but to sue them for every penny they have. Liberal rhetoric! I, too, am tired of not being able to eat what I want where I want, and I've been to restaurants where there was nothing I could eat, so I left. Granted this child did not have a choice, and putting him out in the rain, assuming the story is accurate, was uncalled for. But it's high time we teach our children that others do not define them, that the actions of others is not what determines their worthiness. Furthermore, to sue them for untold damages, that's the pity of this story. What is this child being taught? If someone does something that "offends" me, then sue them for all they have? At what point do we learn to pull ourselves up by the bootstraps and stop always insisting on our way? This could have been a lesson for this child in what compassion looks like and doesn't look like; what it means to believe in yourself in spite of others; to learn forgiveness. But it's the adults! The adults who are teaching revenge and that worthiness is a byproduct of what others do and say. The next generation will prove to be insufferable with this kind of "education".

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    Having spent much time in Colonial Williamsburg, and working right next to it, I cannot imagine anything like that happening there. However, I haven't been there in years. Having celiac myself, I know the pain in the neck I experience when going to a restaurant and asking for a gluten free menu and there isn't one. When there is one, it gives the whole menu and tells what's in each meal, pain to read for sure. but there are so many who choose to go gluten free for some reason or another, so I can see it makes it difficult for restaurant owners to put out a menu. The problem is so many people are sue happy and restaurants want to protect themselves from such lawsuits if for some reason or another a celiac person accidentally eats gluten food. If people bring in their own it also could cause a lawsuit for the restaurant, so it could be that the restaurant asked the boy to eat outside of the restaurant. However, since it was a school outing, the teacher was not allowed to leave the boy outside by himself, especially not in the rain, so therefore I have a little doubt about this story being true as said. The restaurants in Colonial Williamsburg are very expensive, so what school takes the children to such a restaurant? You have to think about the whole scenario. There is a field where they usually go to eat their own food they bring, if it rained they would have stayed on the bus. Best not make judgements about the restaurant owner before knowing all the facts.

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    Regardless of two sides to every story there is a young man who had a very difficult experience. Possibly humiliating , isolating, and embarrassing. The educator was unsuccessfully at being an advocate in this situation and the child (please remember this is a child- someone´s beloved baby no matter what age) he likely experienced very uncomfortable feelings. Young man if you are out there and read this I am sorry for your experience, I send a virtual hug, that can be a challenging experience for anyone. If I could have been there to pick you up on behalf of your parents to alleviate the burden this situation caused you I would have. The middle years and high school are challenging enough while handling celiac or ncgs too. Celiac ncgs is a challenge and I hope some of you recall or can empathize the middle and teen years can be hard. (former educator here at one stage in life) Did the parents overreact as some of you convey? This maybe the last straw and the young man has had other negative experiences etc. The parents were not there and were powerless to intercede at the moment. The parents are sending a message even if it goes no where. Maybe two wrongs don´t make a right but a lot of disconnects occurred on both ends to come to this. Often times people react in fear and lack the ability to think of their actions on others. We lose our humanity. I as an adult was eating my gluten-free food with my son in a parking lot of a baseball game and an employee told me it was illegal to eat on the grounds. I explained our illness and she instructed me to pack it up or she would call the cops. Thankfully we were almost done eating. It is tough enough to eat in a parking lot and make the best of it, but to be treated less than kind just adds that cherry on top. Part of me wonders what if I let the cop come how would he /she handle it, then I thought this is stupid, walk away and send your 3 emails to teach empathy and perspective the cop has more important things to do. My emails to the affiliated agencies were dismissive and pointed the fingers at each other and one never bothered to respond. So young man despite the adults around you remember you were not at fault and any person with sense can see that . Don't let this experience leave a mark on your precious life. Best Wishes.

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  • About Me

    Jefferson Adams

    Jefferson Adams is Celiac.com's senior writer and Digital Content Director. He earned his B.A. and M.F.A. at Arizona State University, and has authored more than 2,500 articles on celiac disease. His coursework includes studies in science, scientific methodology, biology, anatomy, medicine, logic, and advanced research. He previously served as SF Health News Examiner for Examiner.com, and devised health and medical content for Sharecare.com. Jefferson has spoken about celiac disease to the media, including an appearance on the KQED radio show Forum, and is the editor of the book "Cereal Killers" by Scott Adams and Ron Hoggan, Ed.D.

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