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Split
 decisions

Caption
(Sandy Bressner – sbressner@nwherald.com)
Sierra Ellis, 6, (right) and her twin sister, Shawna, arrive for their afternoon kindergarten class at West Elementary School in Crystal Lake. The girls are in separate classes at the school.

When Stacy Shaffer’s twin girls en­tered kindergarten last year, she wanted them to be in the same classroom.

“I knew my kids,” the Crystal Lake resident said. “We had just moved here the year before ... and they were starting in a school district where they knew not a soul.”

However, the administration insisted that she split up Ashton and Peyton.

“I could have pushed back more, but I didn’t want to be ‘that’ parent,” Shaffer said.

Christine Harris, associate superintendent for School District 47, confirmed that although the district didn’t have a written policy on the subject, most principals favored separating multiples.

“The feeling is it gives the children an op­­portunity to develop individually, and not always be compared to one another,” Harris said.

Shaffer’s frustrations with such a policy are not uncommon.

Multiple births continue to increase as parents turn to fertility drugs or wait to have children, increasing their odds of having twins, said Nancy L. Segal, psychology professor at California State University, Fullerton.

And with the rise in multiple births comes a rise of multiples in schools, said Segal, who’s also the author of “Indivisible by Two: Lives of Extraordinary Twins” and “Entwined Lives: Twins and What They Tell Us About Human Behavior.”

However, despite research by people such as Segal that suggests putting twins in the same class actually can be good for some multiples, parents such as Shaffer don’t have a legal right in Illinois to demand it.

Although the Legislature adopted a resolution a few years ago asking school districts to take parents’ concerns into consideration, there is no law requiring it, said Matt Vanover, spokesman for the Illinois State Board of Education.

“The local district is going to do what they feel is most appropriate for their student,” he said.

That’s something many parents would like to see changed. Those parents include Shari Schmidt, who co-chairs Illinois Twins Law, an advocacy group currently lobbying for a law requiring schools to consider parents’ opinions.

“Things haven’t gotten any better since the resolution was passed because there’s no teeth behind it,” Schmidt said.

The Palos Hills resident’s twins, Abigail and Allison, are in the same preschool class and are slated to be in the same kindergarten class next year.

She said her school district has been great to work with, but not all parents were so lucky.

“We still get a lot of calls every year from families that are very upset,” she said. “It’s not just that the children are being pulled apart, it’s the way it’s being done. They don’t ask any questions, they just ... say, ‘We don’t do that.’ ”

Even parents who want to follow conventional wisdom and split their twins or triplets into multiple classrooms agree that it shouldn’t be forced.

“I feel that it is the parent’s choice,” Heidi Ellis said. “I mean they’re the ones who know their child’s personality.”

Her twins, Shawna and Sierra, 6, have flourished in separate kindergarten classrooms, but she knows that’s not always the case.

“I talked to one mom who separated, ... and they had a miserable year,” Ellis said.

Lori Palmisano, 34, of Crystal Lake has an identical twin sister, Lisa Incandela. The two were separated in kindergarten and didn’t have a class together until high school.

She said it worked out well for them, but it’s not as if being in class with her sister was an option.

“That’s just the way that we grew up, and I guess it was more shocking to me ... to learn that parents had that choice,” she said.

Palmisano added that she understood why some parents wanted their children together.

“They want what’s best for their child, and in some situations, they think it will hinder their education by separating them,” she said.

Schmidt said her group planned to push for a state law this fall.

“We’re not trying to say, ‘You must do this for all sets of multiples,’ but parents should be at the table,” Schmidt said.

As for Shaffer’s family, she said, now that the girls have been with teachers full time, she’d be willing to take their input into consideration. With the kindergarten decision, she felt she should have had the most authority because she was the only person who knew her twins.

Ashton and Peyton did end up in separate classrooms again this year for first grade, but were lucky enough to get accommodating teachers, Shaffer added.

“They let them eat lunch together sometimes, and they’ve also let the other one come in the room for story time,” she said. “The bottom line is, it comes down to the individual parent. There’s no way you can make an across-the-board policy.”

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