Schools offer spin on fidget toy

From banned to tolerated

By David J. Coehrs -

Some Fulton County school administrators are giving cautious approval to a new spin students are putting on education, saying the drawbacks so far have been minor.

The fidget spinner, a new fad popping up in schools across the country, has found its way locally into mostly elementary and middle schools. The simple hand-held toy, which uses ball bearings to help send three decorative paddles relentlessly spinning, has captured the attention of mostly younger children.

And although some suggest that its spinning properties can benefit children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and sensory disorders, some school districts have banned the fidget spinner as disruptive to learning.

That has been the case in some Fulton County schools, but in others they’re accepted or, at the very least, tolerated.

“They don’t cause any harm, so I have not banned them,” Wauseon Middle School Principal Joe Friess said. “They’re harmless enough.”

He kept silent when they first appeared at the school about a month ago, mainly among sixth grade students. It was only when interest spread to the other grades and they became a minor distraction that Friess set down some rules.

“In the cafeteria, they’re okay. As far as the classroom goes, they are not to be out,” he said.

Students have been told to keep the toy in their pocket or put away in class until, and unless, a teacher allows their use. They have also been warned that the toy, which can retail for up to $15, is highly coveted and can be stolen.

Friess said the students have responded maturely. “They’ve been complying. Since I spoke about it, it hasn’t really been a problem,” he said.

Wauseon High School Principal Keith Leatherman said the fidget spinner seems to be more of a phenomenon among younger students in the district. He said he’s seen a few among high school students “but it hasn’t become a distraction where we’ve had to address it.”

At Swanton High School, Principal Jason Longbrake has seen several students using the gadget, “but getting feedback from the teachers…I don’t see that they’re much of a distraction.” Fidget spinners haven’t been banned, and, in fact, can be used in classrooms.

Longbrake said they’re used by students to stay focused or for preoccupation. “As long as they don’t interfere with other kids’ learning, and they’re helpful, I’m fine with them,” he said.

The toy has been misused by some students at Archbold Middle School, to a point that some teachers don’t allow them in the classroom.

Principal Matt Shields has seen a lot of them among the students but has not addressed the situation. “We’ve treated them like basically a toy. (And) they’re not supposed to have toys,” he said.

Shields knows they’re marketed as devices that aid ADHD, but said research he’s read doesn’t seem to support that use.

Fidget spinners are banned at the district’s elementary school. Principal Dorothy Lambert said lots of students were toting them, so she sent out a reminder of the school’s no-toys policy.

Lambert is aware they’ve been touted for assisting students with special focus or sensory needs. She said under those circumstances the school provides its own tools.

She has tried a fidget spinner, but said, laughing, “I’m not very good at it.”

While it’s not banned from Evergreen Middle School, it can be used only in hallways and the cafeteria. Principal Joe Zabowski said a fidget spinner is considered a toy and distracts from instruction.

“Personally, I like the spinners as a toy and find them entertaining, but they do not belong in the classroom,” he said.

He said virtually hundreds of them are in the elementary school building, and they have become status symbols, which also creates problems.

As for the gadget’s health benefits, “All the research I have found, legitimate research, not that by manufacturers and marketers, indicate that fine motor movements like spinners do nothing for ADHD,” Zabowski said. “In fact, they are more distracting and create off-task behaviors.”

The fidget spinner is a hot item at Pettisville Elementary School, but Principal Jason Waldvogel hasn’t seen any related disciplinary issues.

The school’s approach is that students who carry them must put them away at the teacher’s request. “The kids know that teachers can take them if they’re a problem,” he said.

Waldvogel said the school is allowing its special education students to use them as part of their sensory activities.

Lynnette Olnhausen, psychologist for Swanton schools, doesn’t know how well the fidget spinner has been researched or whether it actually helps those with anxiety disorders, as some manufacturers claim. What she does see is a “fidget” gadget that is more visually and audibly distracting than other models.

“At the very least, they can be a lot more discreet and quiet,” she observed. “I see it as potentially causing more problems.”

Olnhausen also does not regard the fidget spinner as offering more benefits than other stimulant toys. At the very least, she said, it could help a student experiencing a panic or anxiety attack direct their focus elsewhere.

“I don’t see the pros outweighing the cons. In terms of mental health, there are no quick fixes for that,” she said.

From banned to tolerated

By David J. Coehrs

Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.

Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.