Over the years the classroom accommodation of ‘Allow Breaks’ has popped up in IEPs I have read, and I have also used it to help students with ADHD or other circumstances who have an especially hard time sitting in class for extended periods, or just sometimes need to step out of the class (i.e. dealing with anxiety or social emotional things). However it wasn’t until my last school I worked at where I saw the strategy to use ‘Break Passes’ in an IEP and I incorporated that practice with some students on my caseload the past few years. Using this specific accommodation is great because it takes the allowing of breaks to a more concrete level.
I just wanted to share this learning/classroom accommodation here because I went too many years without using it and I think it has been a good tool that I will continue to use and hope others can find some benefit.
The key is that we get buy-in from the teachers, outline the system to all parties, and ensure that it is done without getting overused by the student (e.g. teach them how to responsibly use the accommodation).
I usually start off by giving the student four break passes when we go over how to use the accommodation. I tell them that they can use them in any class, as long as the teacher doesn’t find it an inopportune moment, and I can give them more passes upon request.
I like to print the passes on yellow card stock (manilla envelope paper) so it is official. It’s like a business card. It’s a different color. It’s legit.
Around this same time I also email all teachers and explain the accommodation and mention possible ways to use it, or alternatives.
Here’s an example of one email I sent:
I just wanted to let you know that based on previous observations and student request we are going to try a new accommodation for (Student) to help him with his focus and ability to stay on task. This is the “Allow Breaks” accommodation with a Break Pass (see attached).
I gave him four copies of this pass and said that I would provide more as needed, but it seems like it might work out differently in practice so let me know if I can tweak it in any way.
At the end of the day, any system that you have or that we refine on my end works well if it helps him take a load off and get ready to refocus when he is starting to lose his focus.
Let me know if you have any comments or questions
At times some teachers don’t feel the need to have passes, or a student doesn’t want to draw attention to themselves, so we might establish a signal they will use when they feel they need a break, or they will just ask the teacher.
While for me the goal is not always to get students off the accommodations so to speak, it is a goal to have the students continuously progress and learn new behaviors that will help them be successful. This means that while they may have trouble sitting through a 90 minute math class, maybe over time they can do just that, or limit the amount of days in which they feel the need to step out.
In that spirit I will sometimes chat with the students and see if they want to set some informal goals for use of the break pass (or non-use). This can help build an intrinsic desire to improve in this ‘area of need’, knowing that it may always be there, but they can improve on their focus naturally for example and can get better at coping with angst and ennui and all that.
This accommodation is not a panacea. It’s not a game changer that will take a student to the next level automatically, but it’s just one more tool in their toolbox to help empower them to reach their goals.
Students like it for various reasons. Sometimes they just need to get up, go grab some water, go walk down the hall. Or other times it’s an easy way for them to get out of the class and go check in with the Learning Support teacher, or counselor and not feel like they have to get permission from the teacher and possibly get denied.
Some teachers may be loathe to allow this accommodations. Some students may be hesitant to ask for it because they aren’t used to these concessions. But we are steadily moving towards the age of inclusion where we focus on equity, not equality.
This means that if a student needs a little extra support and the break pass does that, then we have to provide this accommodation to the students until the team decides on another approach if needed.