What to Consider When Deciding Whether Your Twins Should Be in Separate Classes

Although parents may have a say in which school their multiples or twins attend, some parents have less of a say when it comes to placing their children in the same classroom because certain state laws exist that don’t allow parents to override a school’s decision in separating twins in the classroom.

For many parents, selecting which school their children attend is a decision made, or at least thought about, even before they have become parents. Is this home near a good school? What are our options in this neighborhood? With twins or multiples, however, although parents may select which school they attend, some have less say when it comes to placing their kids in the same classroom.

Twelve states in the U.S. have passed laws that allow parents to override a school’s decision on placing twins in separate classrooms. New York is not one of them. In 2008, a bill was passed in New York that would give parents the authority to select classroom placement of their twins, or multiples. But, the bill was never enacted into law.

Leslie Lange, a licensed clinical psychologist, is a mother of 7-year-old twins who were almost placed in separate classrooms in a public school in Pelham until she and her husband persisted and met multiple times with the school’s principal and psychologist.

“‘We always separate twins, even as early as kindergarten,’” is what the principal’s assistant told the Langes, says Lange, who is also a twin herself. “Nobody at the school told us we had a choice. The school really, really pressured us to separate the girls. The school psychologist told us that the school had many twins, and that these twins had all benefited from being separated because in being separated, the twins could learn how to better ‘individuate’—the psychologist’s word.”

Finally, after posing the following question, “If you had successfully separated every set of twins so far, and it has worked out so well, then how can you say that it would not be equally as successful if you had kept them together?”, the Langes were able to convince school to enroll their twin girls in the same classroom.

“Historically, or at least a trend seems to be that schools rely on this blanket policy of, ‘We should separate all twins or multiples,’” says Peter Faustino, Psy. D., who is the president of New York Association of School Psychologists and the school psychologist at Fox Lane Middle School in Westchester County.

The reason for separating twins, in most situations, is simply because outsiders believe this is the best way for each twin or multiple, to develop individual personalities and to be independent from one another. While it is important for each twin to develop individually, forcing twins to separate at too early an age can have harmful, sometimes lasting, effects.

“Under certain conditions, if you separate twins [too early], the twins may exhibit lower reading scores, might internalize behavior, have anxiety…there are some detrimental effects,” says Dr. Faustino, a father of 8-year-old twins who are currently enrolled in separate classrooms—a collective decision made by Dr. Faustino, his wife, and his twins who vocalized desire to be in separate classrooms because they didn’t want to get mixed up and wanted to have their own sets of friends.

Research, and Making the Decision to Separate

According to a study of 7-year-old identical twins by Lisabeth F. DiLalla and Paula Y. Mullineaux published by the “Journal of School Psychology” in 2007, “fewer problem behaviors” existed when twins are placed in the same classroom.

Still, there are valid reasons to separate twins, says Nancy Segal, Ph.D., who has helped “scores of parents” win against school districts that want to place twins in separate classrooms. “If one kid outperforms the other, you might want to separate. The child who’s not doing well is going to feel terrible. You want to find each child’s particular interest and talent,” she says.

For parents who have conflicting ideas with their children’s school on whether they should separate or keep their twins together in the classroom, the New York Association of School Psychologists provides a checklist for parents and teachers of multiples that sparks a larger discussion between parents and teachers to ensure that each party has discussed certain topics before making a final decision.

However, Lange says that as a twin herself who grew up in Larchmont, now a licensed clinical psychologist in California, she would be a bit more cautious to use this checklist as a strict guideline: “The presence of issues such as lack of separation, as well as the tendency for one twin to be more socially assertive, more developed, etc., does not necessarily mean that the twins should be separated. These issues may actually indicate that the twins would be better off if they are not separated.”

Similarly, Dr. Segal, who has been studying twins for more than 30 years and has authored more than 120 scientific articles and book chapters on the topic, including her new book “Born Together—Reared Apart,” agrees that there should not be a blanket policy when it comes to placing twins in the classroom. “You can’t speak about twins as a group. You have to look at each pair and make a decision on that. Unfortunately, many schools maintain mandatory policies of separation, asserting that twins may not develop separate identities if kept together. However, this is not a research-based policy—some research shows that separation is not the best choice for some sets. Just as there is no set policy for handling issues involving non-twins, there should be no set policy regarding twins. There are many options within a classroom like separate tables or study groups that can resolve problems.”

If a school is adamant about separating twins or multiples but parents feel otherwise about their own children’s well-being, parents may try to convince school officials that keeping the twins in the same classroom would be not only beneficial, but would be best for their development in the long run, according to TwinsLaw.com, a nonprofit dedicated to working across the U.S. to rid of blanket policies that automatically place twins in separate classrooms. There are many studies parents can cite to bolster their argument that there is evidence that for some twins, remaining in the same classroom is the wise—and informed—decision.

Additional Resources, including…Studies, legislation, and guidelines for advocating for your twins or multiples to remain in the same classroom.