Accommodation Breakdown: Flash Pass

The flash pass accommodation is a life saver. Unfortunately, it wasn’t on my radar until middle school. It’s an accommodation I’d recommend for both older and younger ages.

What is a Flash Pass?

A flash pass allows a student to leave class without having to 1) ask permission or 2) provide an explanation.

Who Needs a Flash Pass?

A few examples of students who might benefit from having a flash pass accommodation are listed below.

  • Children with Type 1 Diabetes are one example.

Diabetes doesn’t nap while school is in session. Blood glucose needs checking, insulin injections might be needed, as might snacks. For younger children, they’ll need an adult to work with them, but as they grow older, many of these students know more about their needs than do school staff. They often can read their bodies—and when they need to go to the nurse’s office, they need to go without having to waste time asking for permission. Nor, do they need to have their privacy invaded by teachers who don’t understand and have a million questions.

  • Students who have a need for frequent urination.

Frequent urination is often associated with Diabetes, but children without Diabetes experience this, too—and the last thing they need is a teacher who says, “No. You can’t go to the bathroom. You just went.” The humiliation of having an accident as school is something no child should experience, especially if it can be avoided.

  • A child with Dyslexia, Dysgraphia, processing, and/or a wide range of other challenges.

Children in this category might fatigue easily during class. Sometimes all they need is an opportunity to walk outside the class, go to the bathroom, get a drink of water, and/or go to a pre-arranged location where they can shut their eyes for a few minutes and let their heads rest.

  • Children whose emotions go high and low.

Children with disabilities are known to experience depression, which might come out as aggression toward others or overwhelming sadness, or via other ways. Think about being a high schooler who wasn’t identified with Dyslexia until middle school, who spent every year before thinking he was stupid because he couldn’t read. Those feelings don’t go away overnight. Maybe there’s a middle schooler who social anxiety is crippling at times, and she just needs to get out of the current situation and find a place to sit unbothered. An elementary school child might have anger issues, related to struggles with communicating and might need to go see a counselor for help.

None of these children should have to explain themselves to their teachers.

How is the Accommodation Worded?

The accommodation needs to state 1) what/where the student has permission to leave; 2) if the student has to show the pass to the teacher before leaving, to signal something is up; 3) if the student has to go to a specific place when he or she leaves; and 4) anything else specific to your child.

For a high schooler and middle schooler, a baseline accommodation could be as simple as:

  • Flash Pass: Student has permission to leave class, lunch, an assembly, or any other unmentioned school-related event and/or period without asking permission to be excused.

Depending on the child and maturity level, something added to the above might include:

  • Student will go directly to nurse’s office (or counselor’s office, or whatever location you choose).

Before the student leaves, it’s a good idea for her or him to catch the teacher’s eye or do something so the teacher knows the student is leaving and can keep an eye out for their return. This could be a wave at the teacher, flashing the pass at the teacher, or whatever you arrange with the teacher/s. The important thing is to make sure all of the teachers are on the same page.

Where it Might Fall Apart

As of the first publication of this article, Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS), as one example, doesn’t allow middle and high schoolers to be in the hallways 20 minutes after the start-of-class bell or 20 minutes before the end-of-class bell. With classes that are 90 minutes long, forty minutes is almost half the class.

If the student has a flash pass accommodation, he or she has it for a reason and the 20-minute rule doesn’t apply to them. The Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) determined this in one of its state complaint letter of findings.

Accommodations trump policy—Diabetes, anxiety, fatigue, frustration, sadness, and so on, don’t stop for school policies.

Check with your school to see if there is a similar policy. If there is, make sure ALL teachers know your child has permission to leave, so your child isn’t in the position of being denied an accommodation he or she needs.

Although you might have everything set up in the accommodation, a teacher might not understand, or perhaps your son forgets his pass that day. Is it understood that your child can just wave or give a head nod or another nonverbal signal to the teacher? Or will the teacher be a stickler and say, “You can’t leave. You didn’t show me your flash pass.”

Based on experience, teachers and other staff members will misinterpret this accommodation, so be as specific as possible and the minute you see an issue arise, tweak the accommodation to address the issue. For example, a principal might see your child walking in the hallways during those 20-minute restricted periods mentioned previously. If the principal doesn’t know your child (and sometimes even if he or she does know your child), the principal might reprimand the student first and ask questions later.

Hence, the IEP or 504 teams should discuss a plan for instances when your student encounters a staff member who doesn’t know him or her. What training can the student receive to encourage self-advocacy? Assuming staff will assume innocence and ask questions later is a mistake. Too often, in school settings, there is an assumption of guilty until proven innocent.

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