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The No-Spin Zone: Valley Schools Regulate ‘Fidget Spinners’

  • Weathersfield School second-grader Aiyana Dawson does a trick, spinning a fidget spinner on her forehead -- one of the two fidget spinners she brought to play with during her lunchtime recess in Ascutney, Vt., on June 2, 2017. After seeing a commercial for the toys on television, Dawson has had them for 2-3 weeks. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Weathersfield School sixth-grader Carson C. Williams plays with one of the school's fidget cubes during lunchtime recess at the school in Ascutney, Vt., on June 2, 2017. Williams said he ordered another fidget toy for himself online and has been waiting a while due to the demand. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Weathersfield School sixth-grader Kadence Brooks plays with a fidget spinner during lunchtime recess at the school in Ascutney, Vt., on June 2, 2017. Students had been bringing the toys to school for a few days before a policy was enacted to limit their use to recess. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Taylor Tomberg, center, plays with a fidget spinner as her Weathersfield School first-grade classmates Aurora Hensel-Whalen, left, and Aiyana Gay wait their turns during lunchtime recess at the school in Ascutney, Vt., on June 2, 2017. Students are allowed to play with the toys during recess but not during class, unless it is part of their educational plan. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



For the Valley News
Monday, June 05, 2017

During this past spring vacation, Jean Marie Oakman noticed a lot of media coverage of the latest fad to hit schools: fidget spinners.

The devices are purported to help people who have trouble concentrating (such as those with ADHD, autism or anxiety) by acting as a stress reliever. The basic spinner consists of a pronged design (with 2-6 blades) and a ball bearing at the center, and Oakman, principal of the Weathersfield School, in Ascutney, was hearing that they were being banned at schools across the nation.

“I thought, ‘oh, that’s interesting.’ I hadn’t seen them. The next week every kid seemed to come to school with spinners,” Oakman said.

Occupational therapists at the Weathersfield School have historically used stress balls and beanbags as “fidgets” with kids who need help concentrating, and students are even allowed to chew gum as a way to relieve stress. Oakman explained that she and her staff are not opposed to using innovative methods to help kids learn, but the new fidget spinners were counterproductive.

“We’ve been using fidgets for seven years, and they are effective, but some of the new fidget spinners require two hands to operate, and if students are using two hands they’re not writing; they’re looking down at the spinner,” Oakman said.

Then teachers started complaining that some students were using the devices as weapons, throwing them through the air or putting them in other kids’ faces, as the sharp edges spun like a helicopter. At that point, Oakman asked teachers and students for input, and on May 25 she released a letter to parents — also posted to the school website — outlining her policy, which limited the use of fidget spinners to children with specific learning plans, and giving teachers discretion to take the toys away from children who were using them inappropriately.

The reaction has been overwhelmingly positive, with parents thanking Oakman for providing clarity on the issue, and teachers glad to have concrete boundaries.

When Dean Stearns, principal of South Royalton School. went one step further and banned the spinners, he was surprised at the reaction.

“I stood in front of the entire middle and high school to announce the policy, and I got applause from the students, and a number of students thanked me for taking them away. It’s unusual and nice when you do something kids like,” Stearns said.

Students at South Royalton felt the toys were a distraction, and Stearns had two other reasons for banning them. A few weeks ago two 12-year-old students held the spinners in their fingers like brass knuckles and were about to throw punches when a teacher intervened. Stearns also said he was worried about the spinners coming apart, and the ball bearings posing a choking hazard for the younger students at the school that has children from ages 3 to 18 under one roof.

“They remind me of the snap bracelets and tech decks of our day!” wrote Michael Lepene, principal of Richmond Middle School in Hanover. “We do see them here, but they have not been a significant issue. We deal with them like any personal item and ask that students put them away when they become a distraction. We are trying to teach responsibility and take advantage of teachable moments.”

At Marion Cross School in Norwich, Principal Bill Hammond allows students to use fidget spinners at recess, but not in class, and trading them is forbidden. “I mention this because their predecessor from years ago, Beyblades, were problematic because of selling and trading and tears,” wrote Hammond in an email interview.

At Canaan Elementary School, the use of fidget spinners is left to the discretion of the teachers, who may take the toy away for the day if it’s being used inappropriately.

“We have other methods to help kids with fidgeting,” explained Amanda Isabelle, principal in Canaan. “Each one of our classrooms has a calm box with a variety of gadgets that a student can use to help refocus. We have pinwheels, putty, marbles in squeezable tubes, and other tactile methods that would help a student refocus and calm down.”

Isabelle has not banned the toys, and said that when she walks through the classrooms daily she doesn’t see kids using them. Instead, kids play with the spinners at recess or while waiting in line for the bus.

“Kids are using them very appropriately here, in their free time,” Isabelle said.

While principals around the area are curtailing the use of fidget spinners, at least one confided that the devices are hard to put down.

“If you’ve never held one, you should try them because they are really fun,” said Isabelle.

Jaimie Seaton is a freelance writer who lives in Hanover.