Tool or toy? Schools struggle with rules for fidget spinners in classrooms

 
 
Updated 5/3/2017 6:41 AM
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  • JC Martinez, an 11-year-old fifth-grader at Cloverdale School in Carol Stream, plays with his fidget spinner at his family's Hanover Park home.

      JC Martinez, an 11-year-old fifth-grader at Cloverdale School in Carol Stream, plays with his fidget spinner at his family's Hanover Park home. Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

  • Fidget spinners cost $3 to $15 and many kids play with them during lunch and recess. But unlike past fads, this toy can help some students with special needs stay focused or calm in the classroom.

      Fidget spinners cost $3 to $15 and many kids play with them during lunch and recess. But unlike past fads, this toy can help some students with special needs stay focused or calm in the classroom. Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

  • JC Martinez, an 11-year-old fifth grader at Cloverdale School in Carol Stream, plays with his spinner at his family's Hanover Park home.

      JC Martinez, an 11-year-old fifth grader at Cloverdale School in Carol Stream, plays with his spinner at his family's Hanover Park home. Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

  • JC Martinez can move his fidget spinner from finger to finger as it's spinning.

      JC Martinez can move his fidget spinner from finger to finger as it's spinning. Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

  • Spinner belonging to JC Martinez, an 11-year-old fifth-grader at Cloverdale School in Carol Stream.

      Spinner belonging to JC Martinez, an 11-year-old fifth-grader at Cloverdale School in Carol Stream. Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

When he's doing homework, reading a book or sitting in class, 10-year-old Luke Doubek often grips a fidget spinner -- a silent, three-pronged spinning toy that's held between two fingers.

"It actually helps him concentrate," said his mother, Margaret Doubek, of Hanover Park. Luke has ADHD.

Fidget spinners are the latest toy trend to invade suburban schools. They cost $3 to $15 and many kids play with them during lunch and recess. But unlike past fads, such as Silly Bandz or Yu-Gi-Oh! cards, this toy can help some students with special needs stay focused or calm in the classroom.

That poses a dilemma for school officials, who are struggling to come up with a way to let some children have the popular toy in class but not others.

In most classrooms, the toys have become a distraction. In the past few weeks, dozens of suburban schoolteachers -- including some at Robert Frost Junior High School in Schaumburg and Immanuel Lutheran School in Batavia -- have sent letters home to parents or made morning announcements strongly discouraging students from bringing fidget spinners to school. Those who do are encouraged to keep them in their lockers or backpacks and play with them only during free time.

The policies vary among schools and classes. Some schools allow them at the teachers' discretion. Others ban them unless they're part of a special needs student's 504 or IEP plan.

"It's a tool. We recognize that. But it's also a toy," said Matt Barbini, deputy superintendent of Palatine Township Elementary District 15, who said it will be a topic of discussion at the next meeting with school principals. "Some students may very well require a fidget or sensory device as part of an individual plan, so we can't ban it ... but if it disrupts instruction, or creates an unsafe environment, we need to act responsibly."

If a parent or student poses the "why does he get to have it?" complaint, privacy laws will prevent teachers and school officials from explaining why, Barbini said.

The toys are promoted by their various manufacturers as helpful to children and adults with anxiety, autism, ADD and ADHD.

Some special needs parents see them as an alternative to the stress balls commonly used by schools to help students control their anxiety.

Parents like Doubek say the spinners provide instant calm to fidgety children who would otherwise be doing things like playing with their shoes or tapping pens on their desks while struggling to focus.

Before fidget spinners became popular a few months ago, Doubek's son was allowed to doodle in class, which helped him concentrate.

"They're not for every kid," Doubek said, "but for some kids, those fidget spinners actually work."

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