Multiples Choice: Classroom Placement for Twins
Parents face many decisions regarding their children’s education, but parents of multiples have an added consideration – whether or not to split up their multiples in school.
Until last year, principals often had the final say, and school policies varied. Some required mandatory separation of multiples while others allowed parents to request that their multiples remain together.
In 2011, the N.C. House of Representatives passed what’s commonly referred to as the "twins law." The law gives parents the choice in deciding classroom placement of multiple birth siblings. N.C. Sen. Ralph Hise, a father of twins, introduced the bill. Similar laws exist in several states, including Minnesota, Texas and New Jersey.
The N.C. law requires that parents submit their request to the school no later than five days prior to the first day of school. It also allows educators to share recommendations for classroom placement, though the decision rests with parents. Principals, in consultations with teachers, can reverse the placement at the end of the first grading period after school enrollment if the initial placement is disruptive to the school.
Different Choices, Parents’ Voices
Opinions on classroom placement of multiples vary even among parents of twins, triplets and higher order multiples. Proponents for same-class placement say multiples share a unique bond and, particularly in kindergarten and early grade school, may not be ready for separation without it causing distress. Others believe that separation is best, citing that it encourages more autonomy and prevents a more dominant twin from overshadowing the other.
Susan Watts, the mother of 11-year-old identical twin girls, separated her daughters after preschool.
"By the end of the pre-K class, the teachers told us the girls would benefit from being in separate classrooms in kindergarten, primarily because one twin was significantly more outgoing, participated more and somewhat overshadowed her sister in the classroom. We agreed and really never considered keeping them together in elementary school," she says.
Jennifer Brule kept her identical 7-year-old girls in the same kindergarten class. For first grade, she separated her twins at the principal’s recommendation, but this school year she requested the same class. "We felt that everybody – the girls and us as a family – worked better when they were in the same classroom. They are a great comfort to each other," she says. Brule will reassess her decision each school year. In the meantime, she has her daughters in separate after-school activities so they don’t feel like one unit.
Though Watts and Brule chose different classroom environments for their twins, they agree that parents of multiples should have the right to choose class placement because they know their children best.
Mary Allison Coppola, a lead kindergarten/first-grade teacher at Community School of Davidson and mom of 15-year-old twins, believes a case-by-case approach to classroom placement is better than a blanket policy, since each set of multiples is unique.
"The most important factor is to focus on the needs of each child first – perhaps even before considering parent preference, the opinion of others or school policy," she says. "Are they developmentally reaching the same milestones, and how do they interact? Is one more outgoing and verbal? Will a child who’s less verbal, if kept together, have fewer opportunities to make decisions and grow? Although multiples arrive at school as a group, we must never lose sight of them as individual learners."
Jennifer Fite, a kindergarten teacher at J.V. Washam Elementary School, says some multiples function together in the classroom better than others. At times, she’s seen sibling rivalry and competitiveness. "There are issues with leveled grouping. If one twin is higher, it can create trouble because the children or parents are comparing them. If they’re on the same level, they’re placed in the same group and don’t get a break from each other."
Having multiples in the same classroom, especially in kindergarten, gives children and parents a sense of security about coming to school, says Allison Harris, Smithfield Elementary School principal. A downside is some multiples are so comfortable with each other that there’s less motivation to make new friends, she says.
"Typically at our school, parents request that the twins be together in kindergarten, but beyond that, they want them to be in different classes. I typically defer to the parent as the expert on this and get their opinion before placing the children together or separating them," she says.
Regardless of the classroom placement, many parents and educators agree that open communication between parents of multiples and schools is critical.
Holly Becker is a freelance writer and mother.