Education

The film records a New York family battle to find a comprehensive classroom for a son with Down Syndrome

Olivier Bernier set out to make a film about how students with disabilities can join the classroom with their non-disabled peers. But when he and his wife Hilda began to struggle to enroll their son Emilio in a comprehensive classroom, they turned their cameras on their own.

As a result, the family is trying to convince New York City to enroll their preschool son with Down Syndrome in a classroom with students of various abilities, resulting in a strange look behind the curtains of the New York City Special Education System.

The family, who lived in Bushwick at the time, eventually had some success in enrolling Emilio in a comprehensive preschool classroom. However, their new documentary “Forget-me-not” shows that the road was full of obstacles. Some school choices And department officials who repeatedly shake off their demands for their sons to be placed in the classroom with students of various abilities.

“We want to make Emilio’s classroom settings look like we expect society to look like,” Olivier told Chalkbeat. “Although this term is called a” special student, “Emilio is actually another student. Emilio has challenges that need help. But we also expect him to work as he grows older and become part of society. “

“Forget-me-not” Streamed as part of the Virtual Human Rights Watch Film Festival, Will run from May 19th to 27th.There is Wednesday Q & A, May 19th, with Oliwier and Hilda. Prior to the release of the documentary, the filmmaker spoke with Chalk Beat.

The interview was edited for length and clarity.

What really impressed me with this movie was that it welcomed viewers at the most private moment of parenting, such as when my son’s doctor said there were signs of Down Syndrome shortly after birth. What kind of movie were you planning when you first started filming?

Olivier: I wasn’t planning a movie when we first started filming. I just filmed these intimate moments when my son grew up.

We didn’t set out to make a movie about Emilio’s IEP [individualized educational program] The process, we set out to make a movie about inclusive education, and I saw our son while making this positive movie about what an inclusive education system that works would look like So when everything with Emilio began to happen, the movie type transitioned and was caught in a separation crossroads. It suddenly became part of the movie. And after making the film, I realized that Emilio’s story represents the story of many other children.

This movie shows that Ministry of Education officials are repeatedly resisting your proposal of Emilio. Should learn with his non-disabled companion.. Was there a particular inclusion program they wanted to recommend to him, or was it a problem that the city didn’t actually set it up for students like Emilio?

Hilda: Every time I contacted the school and asked to check the various classroom settings, I was disappointed from the beginning because I was told that only the ones in the IEP would be displayed. And that made searching very difficult. And perhaps there was one place where such a place offered us a tour and showed us all the different classroom settings they had.

Olivier: But when they look at the IEP, it’s like, “Oh no, I can’t accept him in an integrated environment.”

At one of the meetings shown in the movie, education managers seem to be willing to allow Emilio to attend integrated classrooms, but she only serves students with disabilities. It seems that he wants to keep his official recommendation as a separate classroom. What happened?

Olivier: From my point of view, it didn’t make any sense.Emilio said he had to be recommended at 12: 1: 2 [a classroom with 12 students, one special education teacher, and two aides], This is a separate setting, with one exception for this one school.

Hilda: On paper, he still had a 12: 1: 2 recommendation. But it had clauses, partial integration.

Olivier: And we were excited to accept it — Emilio would be able to participate in an integrated setting. But the way it was assembled for us is that if he really works, after a year in that setting he will be able to get a fully integrated IEP. Good.

Hilda and his son Emilio.
From the Rota6 Films movie “Forget Me Not”

Did Emilio, a comprehensive setting, ultimately provide a good experience? What did the classroom look like?

Hilda: Therefore, the ratio was 50-50 [half students with disabilities and half general education students].. And he had a great teacher. She was a great teacher, and there were two aides in the classroom who worked with all the students.

Suddenly he was exposed to the talking children. They are at physically different levels and I think he was just beginning to imitate all of this and reassured us that it was an environment he should continue to do.

Why do you think they will eventually put you in an integrated environment?

Hilda: We spent a lot of time trying to show them our views.

Olivier: And not only that, I just [IEP] When we met, it consumed our entire life, months, months, trying to find a way to give our son this opportunity, like a sleepless night.

You moved to Montclair, NJ during a pandemic. Was your move triggered by your experience here, or was it primarily related to a pandemic?

Hilda: I lost it in a two bedroom apartment with a toddler.

Olivier: Emilio will soon be his brother. We have researched areas that we find more suitable for what we expected of Emilio, but there is no guarantee. I’m planning to hold his IEP meeting in kindergarten soon, but I’m still not sure what will happen.

Many parents with children with disabilities will find your struggle to navigate New York City’s special education system. What do other families want to rob your experience?

Olivier: Well, I hope my parents have the power to question what DOE is saying to them. So I think every individual, every parent, and every family has to make their own decisions, but they should go informed. Federal law on inclusion is fairly clear. It says “try inclusion first”, but DOE doesn’t do that. So people really need to question why.

In the absence of children with disabilities, we don’t know what this system looks like, how intimidating it is, or how it’s poorly designed. And, as you know, I hope we can have more conversations on this issue just by spreading the word and sharing our experiences.

The film records a New York family battle to find a comprehensive classroom for a son with Down Syndrome

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