Banning the Bandz

Kids are so obsessed with these glorified rubber bands that schools are just saying no

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Alan Diaz / AP

Silly Bandz are now contraband. Principals in several states, including Texas, Florida and Massachusetts, have blacklisted the stretchy, colorful bracelets that are creeping up the forearms of schoolkids across the country. What could possibly be so insidious about rubber bands that retain the shapes of child-friendly silhouettes such as mermaids and cowboy hats?

"It's a distraction," says Jill Wolborsky, a fourth-grade teacher in Raleigh, N.C., who banished them from her classroom before the principal put a schoolwide ban into effect on May 25. Students fiddle with the bands and arrange swaps during class, trading, say, a toucan-shaped band for a dragon. Sometimes a trade goes bad — kids get buyer's remorse — and hard feelings, maybe even scuffles, ensue.

It's hard to know what sets off child-centric fads. (Think Cabbage Patch Kids, Beanie Babies, Pok√©mon cards.) The small business behind Silly Bandz — BCP Imports in Toledo, Ohio — has responded to the frenzy by upping its employees from 20 to 200 in the past year and in late May added 22 phone lines to keep up with inquiries. Each month it sells millions of the bands, which retail for about $5 per pack of 24. The company's president, Robert Croak, took my call after hanging up with Macy's, which is interested in creating a Silly Bandz float for its Thanksgiving Day parade.

Croak says he got inspired about three years ago at a product show in China, where a Japanese artist had devised a rubber band cute enough to escape the trash bin. Croak thinks part of the reason Silly Bandz began catching on last year in the U.S. — they became popular early on in Alabama, New Jersey and Tennessee and have now gained traction nationwide — is that they're so cost-conscious.

But in some schools, good, cheap fun has become crazed obsession. In October that was what prompted Karen White, an elementary-school principal in Gardendale, Ala., to become one of the first administrators to force kids to disband the Bandz. "We try not to limit their freedom of expression and what they wear, but when this became a problem, I knew we had to nip it in the bud pretty quickly," says White, who has since extended an olive branch in the form of monthly Silly Bandz days.

Logan Librett, a 10-year-old in New Rochelle, N.Y., is proposing a different solution. He and his friends sent a letter to BCP Imports suggesting a way to circumvent all these bothersome Silly Bandz restrictions: by making "clear silly bands that teachers can't see and only glow in the dark." Librett included his mailing address, just in case the company bites.