Jennifer Sinclair was willing to give Silly Bandz a chance. The silicone bracelets are the newest craze among kids, who love to wear, collect and trade them with friends. Students at Truesdell Middle School, where Sinclair is principal, arrived at school this fall wearing dozens of the bands on each wrist.
But after too many arguments over trades gone bad and one Silly Bandz-fueled spitball incident in the school cafeteria, Sinclair outlawed the fad last week.
"I talked with my leadership team, and we all just agreed that we'd reached the tipping point," she said.
"There got to be enough problems that we just had to tell the kids, 'Gosh, we're so sorry, but Silly Bandz can't be at school anymore.' "
Several Wichita-area schools have banished the popular bracelets, saying they've become a distraction in classrooms and hallways.
Silly Bandz look like rubber bands on your wrist and when removed morph into shapes such as dolphins, superheroes, guitars and palm trees. Themed packs of 20 to 24 cost about $5 — smaller packs and knock-off brands are cheaper — and are sold pretty much anywhere there's a cash register.
Area districts say they're letting schools decide how to handle the craze. Some principals report few problems with the bracelets or say teachers
have the right to take away the bands if students flick them, argue over them or play with them too much during lessons.
At some schools, the bracelets have become the new gold star, with teachers offering them as incentives for good work or behavior, or as prizes at school fundraisers.
"We never know how widespread a fad is going to be," said Susan Rosell, principal at Riverside Leadership Magnet Elementary. "So we kind of watch and see how it plays out with our kids."
Rosell said she first noticed the bracelets in small numbers last spring. But this fall, "You had students coming to school with a 3-inch row of bands on their wrists," she said. "It really seemed to take off over the summer."
Though she hasn't banned the bracelets specifically, Rosell says Riverside's dress code does not allow clothing or accessories that "disrupt the school environment or impede learning."
So far, some teachers have confiscated bands and returned them to children after school.
"Teachers know that if it causes problems, they need to address it," Rosell said. "And kids are good about understanding that."
David Jennings, principal at Maize Central Elementary School, decided in early September to not allow the bands at school. Students can wear them on the bus but must keep them inside backpacks during the day.
"At lunch, instead of eating their lunch they'd be trading these things across the table," Jennings said. "Several teachers said they were causing distractions.... We could tell early on that it would be a problem."
Wichita Montessori School recently sent a note home to parents saying the bracelets were a distraction, adding, "Thank you in advance for keeping Silly Bandz at home."
And a newsletter from Pleasantview Elementary in Derby included this note from principal Yvonne Rothe:
"We need help with Silly Bandz. The kids love wearing them and trading them and playing with them and losing them and finding them and shooting them. Need I say more?... If (students) continue to bring them we will need to keep them for a parent to pick up."
Nancy Robinson, who owns Best of Times, a local gift shop, said it took a while for the bands to become popular in Wichita. But "they're very hot now," she said.
"I had a dad come in last week who said his daughter was mad because she had begged for some in the spring, but he didn't buy any," Robinson said.
"I guess she told him, 'I could have been the first.' "
As with fads such as WebKinz and Beanie Babies, some customers — often parents or grandparents — visit the store regularly to check for new packs of Silly Bandz, Robinson said. One hot seller is a Justin Bieber pack with shapes that include headphones, a heart, the pop sensation's profile and his signature ball cap.
Twelve-year-old Brooke Talbott, a seventh-grader at Robinson Middle School, said she's glad the bracelets are still allowed at her school. She owns hundreds and likes to wear them in wide swaths on both wrists.
"I just think they're cool, all the different colors and shapes," she said. Her favorites are a University of Kansas pack with crimson and blue Jayhawks.
She and her mom recently sponsored a needy child in Haiti. Along with money, food and other necessities, they plan to send the 12-year-old boy some Silly Bandz shaped like planes, cars, animals and teddy bears.
"I'm going to write something, just explaining what they are and that they're really popular here," she said.
Not the first craze
Principals say the phenomenon isn't the first craze they've had to address and likely won't be the last. In past years, schools have banned Pogs, Pokemon trading cards and Heelys, a brand of shoes with wheels embedded into the soles.
"Heelys — that one was easy because it's a safety issue," said Sinclair, the Truesdell principal.
"These other things, we try not to make a big deal of it unless there's a problem. Unfortunately, those problems were becoming more and more frequent, and eventually you just have to say, 'Enough is enough.' "
Logan Oakman, a Truesdell eighth-grader, said he understands the ban on the bands.
"People were using them like they're not supposed to," he said. "Now I just keep mine on my dresser at home."