Brooklyn parents lobby to keep their twins together in middle school

Mimi Turner’s twin boys attended the same pre-K, the same elementary school, the same after-school programs and the same camp. As they entered sixth grade this year, the 11-year-olds were separated for the first time — and it’s been a logistical and emotional burden. 

The Carroll Gardens family resides within Brooklyn’s District 15, where the middle school admissions system was recently overhauled. The aim was to improve racial and socioeconomic integration in the district, which includes Sunset Park, Red Hook, and Cobble Hill. But some parents of twins say the changes have presented additional challenges for their families, making it harder for those who want to keep their children at the same school.

Though having children at different schools could pose difficulties for any family, some parents of twins say there are extra hurdles when it comes to balancing the demands of two children who are the same age.

Once a reliable PTA volunteer, Turner hasn’t made it to a single meeting this year — “There’s no way I could do it at two schools. What, I’m supposed to pick one?” she said. 

Her sons, used to walking to school together in the mornings, now head out alone. One walks about five blocks to class; the other leaves 45 minutes earlier to catch a bus or the subway.  

“It’s a dramatic change,” she said. “This is making it so much harder for me than I could ever imagine.” 

Unlike for elementary school, the education department doesn’t offer sibling preference for middle school (though there are exceptions for K-8 or K-12 schools.) But before District 15 reformed its application process for this year’s sixth grade class, individual schools had more influence over how to admit students, and could decide whether to include sibling priorities, families said. 

Parents of twins in the district are now lobbying the education department for a preference that would allow their children to attend the same middle schools. A group of moms at Park Slope’s P.S. 107 with rising middle schoolers have bent the ears of local politicians. Last month, they launched an online petition a month ago that has garnered 600 signatures so far. 

“It’s so heartbreaking for the kids and the parents to separate those twins,” said Nancy Dodd, the mother of twins who has helped lead the charge to tweak admissions rules. 

Twins tend to be split into different classes once they’re in Kindergarten (if not before), but many parents often prefer to keep them, at least, in the same school. The parents behind the petition argue that when twins are sent to different campuses, families can get stretched too thin when it comes to volunteering to help out, or attending events like teacher conferences. As for students, they say the already-difficult middle school years can seem more daunting without their sibling pair. 

After Anna Carpenter moved to Brooklyn from England, she said it was “traumatic” that her twins were placed in different classrooms for the first time. Her girls are now in fifth grade at P.S. 107, and she doesn’t want to think about how they would fare at separate schools. 

“They’re very, very close,” she said. “It just doesn’t seem fair.”

When a school is already segregated, sibling preferences can complicate integration efforts by making fewer seats available for children from backgrounds that are different from those already enrolled. 

The moms lobbying for a twins preference are quick to note that they are supportive of diversity efforts. But now that admissions are more fair, they argue that allowing twins to stay together shouldn’t pose the same difficulties to integration as before. 

Local Assembly members Robert C. Carroll and Jo Anne Simon, along with City Council members Carlos Menchaca and Brad Lander, recently sent a letter to the Department of Education leaders in support of a sibling preference, even beyond just twins. 

“We believe offering middle school parents a standard sibling priority option would be the right thing for the DOE to do, and would make implementation of the diversity plan more amenable to many parents in District 15,” they wrote in a Nov. 1 letter.

So far, no action has been taken — but schools Chancellor Richard Carranza previously hinted that the education department may be open to change. Carranza is also a twin himself, and went to college alongside his brother.

“We don’t want to inconvenience parents,” Carranza said on WNYC’s Brian Lehrer’s show in September, in response to a question from Mimi Turner, the Carroll Gardens mom whose twins are at separate middle schools.

“We’re actually looking into what that would look like going forward,” the chancellor added.