The Great Twin Debate

One classroom, or two? That's the question facing elementary schools and the parents of twins.

Thanks to fertility treatments, the percentage of twin births in the U.S. has nearly doubled in the past 20 years. The multiple-baby boom, coupled with a culture of extra-involved parents, has crashed into a common school policy that calls for separating twins when they enter the classroom.

Educators long thought same-age siblings needed to learn right away to navigate school as individuals, without relying on, or retreating to, their other half. "The thinking was that twins needed to be separated to expand their social horizons," says Stan Varner, principal of 300 youngsters at Laurence J. Daly Elementary School in Fayette, Missouri.

But that's not sitting well with parents, who are challenging whether schools know what is best. Parents in Oklahoma, Quebec and Minnesota, have fought to allow their kids to be taught together in the same classroom.

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When Wendy Haavisto and her twin 6-year-olds, Nicholas and Victoria, moved to a new school district in Inver Grove Heights, Minnesota, school administrators wouldn't allow the first graders to be in the same classroom. Haavisto, a legislative aide to Minnesota State Senator Dennis Frederickson, urged her boss to draft legislation that would allow parents to tell schools what they want. "I'm the parent of twins and the wife of a twin, and I know what's best for my children," says Haavisto. The law was implemented in May of 2005.

Nancy Segal, a California State University at Fullerton psychologist who studies twins and is a twin herself, applauds the push for flexibility. She says there's no hard data to support the argument that twins will flourish as individuals only if they are schooled apart.

Segal points to studies that show children entering school for the first time adjust better if they go with a friend. Separating twins—if they don't want to be separated—puts an added burden on twins, who, like other kids, are also adjusting to separation from their parents. "It's extra tough on twins emotionally if you separate them," says Segal.

Varner, the Missouri educator, decided on his own to leave the twin question to parents when he became principal. The result: A 50-50 split between parents who want their twins together and those who opt for dividing them.

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