JEFFERSON CITY — Multiple-birth siblings would be allowed to be in the same classroom as long as their parents request it in a timely fashion under a bill that has been introduced in the state House.
The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Ed Robb, R-Columbia, said mothers of multiples came to him with concerns over how and why their children are placed in certain classes.
“They said, ‘In some places, principals and superintendents are making decisions we think we should make,’” Robb said.
Tanya Alberty, president of the Columbia Mothers of Multiples Club, said she had asked Robb to speak about the issue at a club meeting, and he later offered to sponsor the bill.
Alberty, a mother of triplets in preschool, said she has not had any trouble with Columbia schools. She said she heard about the legislation, a form of which was first introduced in 2006, from unhappy parents in the St. Louis area.
Alberty said parents told her that St. Louis schools are strict about not allowing multiples to be together in the same classroom. The Board of Education for St. Louis schools does not have any written policy for assigning multiple-birth siblings to specific classrooms, according to its Web site.
Lynn Barnett, assistant superintendent of Columbia Public Schools, said there is no districtwide policy for Columbia schools to follow when placing multiples in classrooms. The decision is instead deferred to the principals of individual schools and to parents.
Linda Klopfenstein, principal of Midway Elementary School, said the school deals with twins and triplets on a case-by-case basis. “When the children first enter kindergarten, we sit and talk with the parents but usually let them decide because they know their children better than we do at that point,” she said.
But as children grow older, it becomes a collaborative process, said. “I will talk to the parents about midsummer when I am making class lists, and we will discuss the strengths and problem areas of each child and what the proper class placement would be. The parents usually have respect for our opinions, from an educational standpoint,” Klopfenstein said.
Both Alberty and Robb said some schools justify their decisions by citing research on multiples’ behavior.
“You can’t say as a generalization all multiples should be separated,” Alberty said.
But Brent Ghan, spokesman for the Missouri School Boards Association, said those policies are based on the fact that school boards know students’ needs.
“Local school boards are in the best position to make decisions based on the needs of the local community,” Ghan said. “That is why we don’t have one school board.”
Ghan said the school boards association thinks classroom placement should be a local policy decision.
“This is not a one-size-fits-all situation,” he said.
Paxton Keeley Elementary School doesn’t have an official policy guiding the placement of multiple-birth siblings but tries to evaluate each case individually, Principal Elaine Hassemer said.
When siblings are dependent upon each other, Hassemer said the school often tries to separate them.
“We would want them to develop their own group of friends and develop their own skills,” she said.
Robb said he thinks parents should have the last word.
“The most local you can get is the parents,” he said.
Alberty said she hopes the bill will eliminate a lot of frustration for parents of multiples.
“Frankly, of all the people I’ve talked to, no one has had a problem with (this bill in Columbia),” she said. “I don’t want to be so upset about it that I go another route away from public schools.”
The bill would require that parents who want their children in the same classroom make the request within 14 days after the first day of school or the date of the children’s enrollment.
Similar legislation was first introduced in the House by Rep. Sam Page, D-St. Louis County, in 2006. That bill wasn’t assigned to a committee until the last day of the legislative session — when it was too late for the committee to do anything with it.
Missourian reporters Jim Buell and Allison Bennett contributed to this report.