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William Strauss' Blog

By William Strauss | Mortgage Broker
or Lender in Chicago, IL

4yr old Luna is enrolled for kindergarten this fall at Mark Sheridan Math & Science Academy Her twin sister is not?


Four-year-old Luna King-O'Brien is enrolled for kindergarten this fall at Mark Sheridan Math & Science Academy in Bridgeport.

Her twin sister, Mia, is not.

Due to a quirk in the way Chicago Public Schools picks children for its magnet schools, the Hyde Park twins could be separated this fall when the school year begins.

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Their parents aren't happy.

"It seems pretty bleak," said Kelly King-O'Brien, the twins' mother. "We just want them to go somewhere together."

The selection policy, rewritten for this school year, states that if one sibling is already enrolled at a magnet school, a younger brother or sister will automatically be accepted to kindergarten at that school.

The policy, however, does not apply to twins, leaving parents like King-O'Brien with a tough choice. Do they allow one child to enroll at a highly sought-after magnet school, while enrolling the other at their less-desirable neighborhood school?

In years past, twins, triplets and other multiples were usually allowed to enroll at the same school for kindergarten because school principals had some discretion in deciding who was admitted.

After stories surfaced about well-connected parents who got their children accepted to elite schools through principal discretion, CPS revamped the rules for this fall. Now, elementary school principals have no say in which kids are admitted to their kindergartens.

In the case of Luna and Mia, their parents signed both up for the magnet school lottery. Luna drew better numbers, so she was accepted at both Sheridan and Murray Language Academy, a magnet school just a few blocks from the family's house, where both kids currently attend preschool.

Mia didn't fare so well. She is currently No. 62 on the wait list for Murray and No. 4 on the wait list for Sheridan.

King-O'Brien said she has tried for weeks to convince school officials to accept both her children at the same school, but has been told there is nothing they can do.

Frustrated, she e-mailed What's Your Problem?

She said the irony is that if the kids were a year apart and Luna had been accepted to a magnet school, Mia would have gotten in the following year. But because they're twins, the sibling preference rule does not apply.

"I feel like the policy is wrong and it's kind of putting twins at an inferior status," King-O'Brien said. "To have a sibling policy that doesn't apply to my kids, that just seems wrong to me."

The Problem Solver called Katie Ellis, a project manager at CPS. She said the rule changes are temporary and will be revisited before the 2011 school year. The impact of the rule changes on twins and other multiples was unintended, Ellis said.

"This is definitely one of the things we're going to be looking at," she said. "We intentionally drafted only a one-year policy so we could take care of these types of things going forward in a permanent policy."

Ellis said CPS will also look at extending the sibling preference rule to older grades, meaning that if Luna enrolls at either school this year and space is available, Mia would be able to enroll in first grade at the same school next year.

Of course, that does not help the King-O'Briens this year.

Ellis said CPS has heard from other parents of twins who are in the same situation.

"Some are definitely disappointed they didn't both get in," Ellis said. "That was one very strong reason to have principal discretion for magnet schools."

King-O'Brien said she and her partner will probably enroll Luna at Sheridan and hope that more than four spots open up before the school year begins in the fall, allowing Mia to move up from the wait list.

"Just going to the same school would be a huge accomplishment," she said. "It's a tough issue for twins. I'm not separating them. I think it's really damaging to send just one

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