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Charlotte Observer- To Split Or Not: N.C. Law Gives Twins' Parents Power

Sharon Thorsland along with her twins, Sena Everett and Gunnar Everett, both 6-years old. T.Ortega Gaines

Sharon Thorsland along with her twins, Sena Everett and Gunnar Everett, both 6-years old. Photo: T.Ortega Gaines Amid the hullabaloo over education laws in Raleigh, one school bill slipped by almost unnoticed. N.C. legislators made sure Sena and Gunnar Everett can be in the same kindergarten class in August. The state law, passed last June, doesn't single out the 6-year-old twins from Charlotte's Sedgefield neighborhood, of course. But it does give parents the final say in deciding whether twins, triplets and other "multiples" are separated or placed in the same class. That's a huge relief to Gunnar and Sena's mom, Sharon Thorsland. Now she's making sure principals and educators know about it. Frustrated by hearing principals tell her they always separate siblings, Thorsland found the law as she was "googling around" for ammunition to keep them together. "I just felt like I hit the jackpot," Thorsland said. Like many parents of multiples, she says blanket policies don't make sense for individual children. And no one knows those children better than their parents. Thorsland brings added insight: She's an identical twin herself. She and her twin Susan were traumatized by being separated in first grade, she says, but did fine being apart as they got older. "If you're not a twin or a parent of a twin, it's hard to understand," Thorsland says. So-called "twin laws" have become a national trend since Minnesota passed a law in 2005 letting parents decide on classroom placement. Online tallies indicate more than a dozen states have passed similar laws or resolutions. Advocates approached N.C. Sen. Ralph Hise, a Republican from Spruce Pine and the father of 4-year-old twins. He introduced the bill last year. "The relationship between multiple-birth siblings is unique," Hise said in an email. "Given the deficiency of research and data as to how that unique relationship affects learning, I feel that classroom placement is a decision that should include parental consultation and input rather than one left solely to administrators who may or may not have expertise in this area." Twin stories Many educators believe separating twins helps them develop separate identities, while putting them into the same class can create comparisons, competition and confusion. When Sharon and Susan Thorsland started school, they were placed in separate first-grade classes. "We cried all day for three weeks before they finally relented and put us in the same class," Sharon Thorsland says. For the rest of elementary school, though, they were happy in different classes. In middle and high school, the Thorsland twins had some classes together and some apart. They had planned to attend different colleges, but at the last minute, Susan joined Sharon at UNC Chapel Hill for freshman year. After a year of rooming together, Susan went on to New York University to pursue her own interests. As adults, every time one twin moved, the other soon followed. They now live on the same street, and when they talked about the twin law this week, both had medical boots on their left leg because of tendon problems. Both are married with three children. None of Susan's are twins. Sharon Thorsland and husband Tony Everett were expecting the twins when Thorsland fell, breaking her ankle. She had to have surgery, and at 26 weeks of pregnancy (full term is 40) she went into labor. The twins were barely over 2 pounds each. Both spent months in neonatal intensive care. Gunnar, who had serious heart and intestinal problems, wasn't expected to live. Ready for school Six years later, both are happy, healthy children. But their early struggles and lingering medical issues are part of the reason Thorsland is adamant about keeping them together. Sharon's twins got into prekindergarten at Park Road Montessori, a Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools magnet that features multiage classes. Susan already had children there. Sharon says she asked to keep the twins together, but the principal was adamant about separating them. Principal Anna Moraglia couldn't be reached for comment this week, and staff said no one else could discuss the practice. The children were "beyond miserable," Thorsland says. Sena was especially upset about being apart from her brother and refused to go to school. "I had to pull them. It was just a nightmare," Thorsland says. She enrolled them in a church-sponsored "transitional kindergarten" that lets them be together. They happily play with different friends, she says, as long as Sena has the comfort of Gunnar nearby. "Mostly I sit by the boys," Gunnar confirms, adding that his biggest concern is staying in a class with his buddy Ben next year. Thorsland says she visited nine CMS schools and a charter school as she planned for kindergarten. Most told her it's their policy to separate twins, she says. The children will attend Elizabeth Traditional, where the principal preferred to separate them but agreed to her request. Brian Slattery, assistant principal at Elizabeth Traditional, said the school prefers separate classes because one twin often dominates the other. It's easier to reassign them to the same class later if there are problems than it is to separate them if they start together, he said. But he said the school is always open to parent requests: "Every child is different and every family is different." Spreading the word Once Thorsland realized that state law requires the same flexibility Elizabeth Traditional offered, she emailed the law to Chief Academic Officer Ann Clark, who said she's having the CMS legal department draft a memo to principals. Thorsland also got in touch with Charlotte Mothers of Multiples, a club with 625 members. President Sonya Krueger, whose 4-year-old twins are in the same preschool class, agrees there's no approach that's right for all children. She posted news about the law on the group's online forum. "I think that the parent is the person who knows best what is best for the children," Krueger said. "Each set of twins is different." Krueger says it can be smart to keep twins together when they start kindergarten, because they may already be anxious about leaving home. Right now, she says, her girls say they'd like to stay together. But they don't start kindergarten until 2013, so "I'll see when it comes." Whatever her decision, she now has confidence that the principal will heed it. Copyright 2012 The Charlotte Observer. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.