Megan Michaels likes the different colors and shapes of her Silly Bandz. The second-grader at Mary Bryant Elementary first found out about the rubber band bracelets when another student brought them to class a few months ago. Soon, Megan was donning them on her left arm — up to 70 at a time. But she can't wear them to school anymore. "Kids in my class traded them while the teacher was teaching," she said.
Similar distractions occurred in other classrooms, prompting principal Karen Bass to ban the colorful rubber bands at the Westchase school.
"I think they are cute but I think they are a bit of a disruption here," Bass said. She alerted parents in a March e-mail. "It is necessary to ask that these accessories be saved for play at home."
The move was a nod to the popularity of the latest fad playing out in schools, playgrounds, homes and businesses throughout the country.
Not so long ago, Pokémon cards, Webkinz, Pogs or slap bracelets were the thing. Now, it's Silly Bandz.
The rubber bands are being auctioned on eBay and have their own Facebook page, boasting more than 133,500 fans this week.
They were the subject of a New York Times article last month. Although kids generally call them "silly bands," there are several manufacturers who market them under names including Silly Bandz, Zanybandz and Crazy Bands, according to that article.
The thin, rubber band-style bracelets (think Livestrong) form any number of colors and shapes, such as animals, sports and even musical instruments. They look like a rubber band when worn but revert to their stamped shape when removed from a wrist. A pack can cost anywhere from about $2.99 to $10.99 or so, with a typical pack of 24 selling for $5.
Like Bass in Westchase, Pamela Bush, principal at FishHawk Creek Elementary in Lithia, does not want to see the bands on campus.
"We really don't promote them trading them during the school day," she said.
Still, some school administrators have a tolerance for the toys.
Rumor recently had it that the bands were banned for Rangers at Deer Park Elementary, but principal Lou Cerreta says not so.
"Different years you have different fads come through," Cerreta said. "As long as it's not a distraction to the learning environment, I think it's fine."
Schools in Pasco and Pinellas counties have not had any outright bans, at least according to district officials.
Businesses like Learning Express are embracing the fad. The toy store has outlets in Westchase, Brandon and South Tampa.
Sheryl Nicholson is a toy expert at the Westchase store, which stays stocked with nearly 4,000 bands.
"I love it. I think it is a great tool for kids," Nicholson said, adding that the bracelets improve negotiating skills.
More than 130 kids showed up at a trading day at the store recently, she said. The event was so popular owners will host another one Saturday.
Nicholson said the store noticed a dip in sales after nearby Bryant put the ban in effect.
"I am so saddened that some schools have decided to ban them," Nicholson said. "There are still some creative teachers who actually see the benefits and see the rewards and use them as a tool. Some teachers see them as too distracting."
Julie Mizouni, who owns the Learning Express in South Tampa, said she gets about 500 in each week. She has trouble keeping up with the demand.
"It's one of those hot items. It's a good price point. I think that makes it even stronger," Mizouni said. "The kids, they love it. They can't wait to go to school the next day to do some serious trading with their friends."
Megan's mother, Nicole Michaels, remembers when her children first found out about the bands. Megan started trading them with her brother, 10-year-old Ryan.
"After that it took off like crazy. They would wear them and trade them," Michaels said. "I don't really get it."
Megan now has more than 70 bands; Ryan recently said he had 176.
A few weeks ago in a swap with Ryan, Megan got a band shaped like a train — now her favorite band of all.
He wants to trade back, but Megan has different ideas.
"It's cool and if you turn it around it looks like a dog," she said. "I think it's going to be mine now."
Jared Leone can be reached at (813) 226-3435 or [email protected]