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As fidget spinner craze grows, some Western Pa. schools ban them from classrooms

Ben Schmitt
| Wednesday, May 17, 2017, 6:45 p.m.

Call it spin control — the effort in Western Pennsylvania schools and across the country to address the craze surrounding three-pronged gadgets known as fidget spinners.

The palm-size twirling toys, originally designed to help relax children with hyperactivity, anxiety and autism, are exploding in popularity. For many kids, having one isn't enough.

Learning Express Toys in Bakery Square carries 15 varieties of fidget spinners. The store will soon stock versions of the toy in Penguins, Steelers and Pirates designs, said Corey Walton, event coordinator.

Photo by Andrew Russell

"It's the new big thing," said Angela Keeley, an English teacher at Penn Hills High School.

Keeley allows students to keep the toys in her classroom if they remain respectful and quiet. But sometimes students spin them on their noses or foreheads or loudly on their desks. Then she confiscates them until school lets out.

She took four away Wednesday.

Corey Walton, event coordinator for Learning Express Toys, shows off a fidget spinner from her store in Bakery Square on Wednesday, May 17, 2017. Some local school districts are banning the toys from classrooms.

Photo by Andrew Russell

 

"At the end of the day, they were standing at my door waiting to get them back," Keeley said. "That's how popular they are."

Most school administrators contacted Wednesday by the Tribune-Review said they are monitoring how kids use the spinners. Some have allowed teachers to use their discretion in how they handle the toys. Others have ruled that spinners can only come out during recess.

Phineas Pennington, a third-grader at Bellevue Elementary School, did his best to explain the fascination with the gadgets. He has three, but one is partially broken.

"I guess I just like to spin it around and do tricks," the 9-year-old told the Trib. "I threw it up in the air and caught it on my finger while it was spinning."

The popular toy sells for as little as $4.

Employees at Five Below stores in Monroeville and the Pittsburgh Mills mall said they were sold out of fidget spinners on Wednesday.

Corey Walton, event coordinator at Learning Express in Pittsburgh's Bakery Square, carries about 15 varieties. Some cost as much as $24.99. They plan to have Penguins, Steelers and Pirates spinners next week.

"They started out as a nice stimulating tool for kids who had educational issues," she said. "Once they got into the schools, other kids saw them and said, 'Oh my gosh, those are so cool.' "

At Community Day School in Squirrel Hill, teachers started noticing the spinners during standardized testing the first week of May.

"They began to be everywhere," said Mark Minkus, the head of Community Day's Intermediate and Middle School. "Kids were saying they helped them concentrate."

Within a week, Minkus decided the toys were a class distraction and could be used only during recess.

"I felt the distraction outweighed any benefit that was trying to be persuaded upon us by students."

He's counting on the fad to fade away soon.

Hampton Township School District took a similar approach.

"The fidget toys haven't really been an issue because, as soon as our teachers realized they were becoming a 'fad' toy, they immediately instituted rules for when and where they could be used," said Shari Berg, a district spokeswoman. "Basically, students are allowed to have them in the bus line and at recess only. They are to be kept in their backpacks at all other times of the day."

Other requests for spinner-use permission for students with diagnosed conditions are considered on an as-needed basis and with a note from a medical doctor or therapist, she said.

Joe DeMar, principal of Fort Couch Middle School in Upper St. Clair, said the school bought a few spinners to keep in their office.

"If we have a kid talking with us in the office and they feel apprehensive, we might let them use a spinner to see if it helps them open up," he said. "Some kids say it helps them relax and feel comfortable."

The North Hills School District is also getting a handle on spinners.

"In some of our buildings, we have asked students not to bring them to school or only use them during indoor recess — except in cases where they are used appropriately as an accommodation for a student with special needs," spokeswoman Amanda Hartle said.

When school is out, Bakery Square's Learning Express is banking on a way to keep fidget spinners in the forefront.

They're hosting competitions on June 3, 10 and 24. Categories include: "Longest Nose Spin," and "Longest Elbow Spin."

"We are your spinner headquarters, for sure," Walton said.

Ben Schmitt is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7991, bschmitt@tribweb.com or via Twitter at @Bencschmitt.

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