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Two-sided story: Schools, parents debate twins’ placement

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Stacy Vogel
August 31, 2008
— Trevor and Justin Ciebell are quick to point out they’re not exactly alike.

Trevor is a quarter inch taller.


Justin has a scar on his foot, while Trevor has one on his chin.


But the 8-year-old identical twins share a bond that no school should separate, their parents say.


“We’ve always felt that it was better to keep them together because of that special twin bond,” their father, Tony Ciebell, said. “We felt, far be it from us to break that.”


Tony and his wife, Paula, recently pulled the twins out of Harmony Elementary School because the school refused to put the twins in the same second-grade class.


The Ciebells’ disagreement with the Milton School District highlights a debate that has gone on for years among schools and families of twins: Should twins be put in different classrooms or the same room? When is the right time to separate them?


And who gets the final say?


The answer to the first two, at least, is different for every family.


Some believe twins should be separated at a young age so they can develop their own personalities and not rely on each other, according to research from the University of Wisconsin Twin Center in Madison.


Others worry that separating twins can cause emotional problems.


In the Ciebells’ case, the school thought keeping the twins together was hindering one twin’s development, according to a letter the parents received from Principal Jeanne Smith.


“Over the course of the last two years, we have noticed that while at school, Justin appears to be emerging as the dominant twin, and Trevor has taken a more subordinate role,” the letter says.


Tony and Paula say that’s ridiculous. Both twins have excelled in school, and if anything, Trevor seems to be the pushier one at home, they said.


“This was totally unexpected for us,” Paula said.


This isn’t the first time the parents have tangled with the school over the twins’ placement. The school wanted to separate the boys in first grade, Paula said, but it allowed them to stay together after receiving a letter from their pediatrician saying the boys would experience separation anxiety if separated.


That’s not a far-fetched idea.


A 2004 British study found identical twins separated at age 5 experienced more instances of withdrawal and anxiety and had lower reading scores than twins kept together. Identical twins separated at age 7 experienced similar results, though some twins separated at both ages were perfectly fine.


“The decision of classroom separation is one that should be made on an individual basis, keeping in mind the characteristics and personality of each twin,” the UW Twin Center concludes in a newsletter reviewing the study.


But who makes that decision?


The Ciebells feel it should be the parents. They’re following legislation passed in Minnesota and being considered in other states that gives parents final say over whether twins are placed together or apart


“The parent’s voice comes first,” Paula said.


The Milton School District doesn’t have a policy on twin placement, but administrators get the final say on classroom placement for any student, Superintendent Bernie Nikolay said. The district usually accommodates the parents’ wishes with twins, but in this case, the principal thought there was an overriding reason to separate them, he said.


“We’ll do what we think is best for the kids,” he said.


TWIN CONSIDERATIONS

Here are some things parents and schools should keep in mind when deciding whether to keep twins together or separate them, according to the University of Wisconsin Twin Center:


-- The skill level of each child. Teachers and peers often compare twins’ abilities to each other. So if one twin is better at sports or academics, the other twin might feel the difference more if the twins are in the same class.


-- The ability of the twins to interact with other children. Although twins are often each other’s closest friends, they still need to be able to develop relationships with other children. If the twins only interact with each other, it may be best to separate them.


-- Any extenuating circumstances that might make keeping the twins together a necessity. For example, if the twins are going through a stressful time such as a divorce or death in the family, they might need each other for support.


-- The thoughts and feelings of the children.



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