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Latest mix-up in SF public school lottery accidentally links twins

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In order to get into better schools, some parents of twins enter them as individuals at different schools because linking twins tends to result in “less favorable placement.” (Cindy Chew/2008 S.F. Examiner)
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The latest mix-up to come out of San Francisco’s troubled school assignment system is causing more than a few headaches for parents of twins.

It may seem odd, but some parents were shocked to learn last month that their twins were offered spots at the same schools in the San Francisco Unified School District.

Trying to get offers from better schools, the parents decided to roll the dice and enter their twins as individuals rather than pairs in the first round of the annual school lottery.

That should have meant that the twins were assigned spots at different schools, but a school official said the district “inadvertently” linked every twin to his or her sibling.

As a result, some parents believe the twins were put at a disadvantage in the first round, only receiving offers to schools with enough room for two students rather than one.

The mistake was the second time the school district bungled the assignment process for next school year. Parents were in an uproar last month when the district delayed assignment letters for the first round.

The assignment system itself is also under scrutiny for increasing segregation in schools.

The latest confusion was the source of grief for at least 10 families who sent a letter to the school district March 27 demanding answers.

“We all submitted our application forms with our twins unlinked based on the advice of [school board member] Rachel Norton and others who indicated that linking twins results in less favorable placement,” the letter reads.

“However, despite not linking our twins, we have all received identical placement for our twins in the first round of the lottery,” the parents continued.

Norton did not respond to a call for comment.

One mother said in an interview with the San Francisco Examiner that her soon-to-be kindergarteners were assigned to a school that was one of the least preferred schools for each child.

“We were assigned to a school 25 minutes away,” said the mother, who asked to remain anonymous out of fear of retaliation from the district. “We need a different school.”

SFUSD Director of Policy and Operations Orla O’Keeffe said the mistake affected 39 families who wanted to unlink their twins in the first round.

“For these families, [district] staff is available to provide one-on-one counseling and give them a priority if they are unhappy with their current assignment and wish to participate in Round Two,” O’Keeffe said in an email.

In total, there were 429 twins or multiples in the first round, according to SFUSD spokesperson Heidi Anderson.

In the letter, the parents were concerned that the lottery system didn’t work and asked for an explanation.

In response, O’Keeffe said in another email last Wednesday obtained by the Examiner that “families shouldn’t have to use complex strategies to increase their likelihood of getting assigned to a school that meets the needs and desires of their children.”

“That’s inequitable, and it makes the system more complex than it needs to be,” she wrote, before suggesting the families re-apply in Round Two.

The mother who spoke with the Examiner said it sounded like O’Keeffe accused them of gaming the system.

“If this is gaming the system, they have the instruction right on the website for you to follow,” the mother said.

The SFUSD does have a webpage advising parents to unlink twins for better results.

“Having twins treated separately in the process may result in, but not guaranteed of, one or the other twin receiving an offer to a higher choice school,” the website reads.

Parents then apply for the other twin to attend that “higher choice” school in Round Two, and the child is likely to get in since students with siblings assigned to the school are given preference in the lottery.

The school board is expected to discuss the issue at committee May 15.

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