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Olivier Bernier is an award-winning director and documentary filmmaker who lives and breathes to tell stories that explore the human condition.
When Olivier and his wife Hilda’s son was born with down syndrome they were entirely unprepared. Inspired, Olivier Bernier decided to document his family experience so he applied and won grant money to make a film about inclusive education. However, his family’s experiences with Emilio’s journey took the film in a slightly different direction. Forget Me Not became a documentary film that shares a family’s fight to have their son with Down syndrome included in the country’s most segregated school system in the country, the New York City public school system.
Forget Me Not offers a rare look at what a truly inclusive education can look like and how it can lead to a more inclusive society so that everyone has the opportunity to achieve their full potential. The production crew also included several young people with disabilities, as seen in the closing credits of the film.
In this conversation with Jay, he talks about his journey as a father advocating for his child’s inclusive education in one of the most segregated school districts in the US – New York City.
To learn more about Forget Me Note, click here.
Olivier Bernier: If we wanna look at this society we wanna live in, that really has to start in the classroom.
Jay Ruderman: Hi, I’m Jay Ruderman and welcome to All About Change, a podcast showcasing individuals who leverage the hardships that have been thrown at them to better other people’s lives.
Jay Ruderman: and Today on our show, Olivier Bernier.
Olivier Bernier: The problem with most school districts, and especially New York, is that they use these evaluations to find reasons to segregate the children from an early age.
Jay Ruderman: Olivier Bernier is an award winning director and documentary filmmaker who lives and breathes to tell stories that explore the human condition. When Olivier and his wife Hilda’s son was born with down syndrome they were entirely unprepared.
Olivier Bernier: I think that if at a very young age you tell someone that you don’t belong, you start disenfranchising them and you don’t give a reason to live.
Jay Ruderman: But though he was unprepared emotionally, he did have his camera on him, and was filming; From the very moment the doctor broke the news. Inspired, Olivier Bernier decided to document his family experience. Forget Me Not became a documentary about Olivier’s son, Emilio, but it also talks about a much broader issue. The film sheds light on families fighting to have their children included in one of the most segregated school systems in the country – the New York City public school system.
Olivier Bernier: I think the most important thing is that Emilio’s story just happened to be the one I filmed, but Emilio’s story represents millions of other kids around the country and around the world that are going through the same thing. So you’re not alone.
Jay Ruderman: Olivia, it’s a pleasure to welcome you as my guest on, all about change. I want to tell you, I really enjoyed your film. Forget Me. Not, it resonated with me on so many different levels. I’ve been involved in the work of inclusive education for most of my career. but I think film has a way of really drawing people in and making them feel and live. what the experience is really like. you start the film in an abandoned institution, and can you talk a little bit about, why you chose to start this film that way?
Olivier Bernier: Yeah, well, when we started making the film, it was more of a cerebral look at what inclusive education was, and a part of that was just my discovery of inclusive education. As we got into making the film, I started to realize, Well, segregation is actually the norm. And where did it all start? It started in these institutions, so there’s a couple reasons why I think that institutions are really relevant.
One, because it’s the worst form of segregation, but also it shows to me a sense of optimism because just 50 years ago, if my son was born in a hospital, it would’ve been recommended that he’d go into an institution Today we’re past that and it shows that as a society we can change and we can move forward.
Jay Ruderman: Right. And, and I think later on in the film you show some of the real horrors that were uncovered when cameras went into these institutions and showed, people with disabilities essentially being treated as animals. and I, and you know, I think we’ve come a long way from them from then, but, we still have a long way to go, which is what your film essentially, points out.
this is a very personal film. the birth of your son is prominent and, and his. Growing up in his,the trials that you and your wife go through in terms of his education. When you first started to look into or, or had the interest in making this film, did you intend it to be such a personal look into your own life?
Olivier Bernier: Absolutely not. Uh, when we started the film, we started with the idea that we wanna see what an inclusive education system looks like. when my son was born, I was completely unprepared for him. I didn’t know what Down Syndrome was in a real way. And in some ways I thought that he would be stuck in a room for the rest of his life. And part of that was my ignorance, but as I looked at it, You know, I went to a school of 3000 people, a high school, and I never met anyone with Down syndrome or a significant disability. And I started to realize that it wasn’t necessarily only my ignorance as the ignorance of society in general, that we keep people with disabilities hidden.
And then what we do is we create a river between us. When my son was born being unprepared for him, it really made me wanna look at how can I change that? How can I do something that makes this world a little better for him growing up and as he was turning to education was on our minds, what is education gonna look like?
And we decided that. Probably want him to be included just because we want him to be included everywhere. at the time we were taking him to swimming lessons to every kid’s group, music group. And why would school be any different?
Jay Ruderman: So the filming of the birth, was that separate from the film? That was like a personal, like, I’m gonna film my son’s, uh, birth and, and then later was you decided to include that in the film. Is that, does that sound about right?
Olivier Bernier: Yeah, I was, you know, I was a filmmaker before my son was born, so I was like any dad just filming everything. I just had fancier cameras to do it with. And, when my son was born, it was a pretty dramatic birth for a couple reasons. oxygen levels, all, all the reasons why births are never like they are in the movies and at the time I. Thought I had put my camera down. It was around my neck and I forgot to stop recording. And I caught the moment that, the doctor tells us that Emilio shows five markers of Down syndrome.
Jay Ruderman: right.
[Forget Me Not Excerpt]
A couple of things we noticed. Um, the eyes are slightly up sled, um, and the toes are slightly widened and there’s a crease on not palms, some subtle findings everywhere that may indicate this, indicate down smooth. Okay. Um, and so we are not sure. I’m sorry to say this, but I, I think it’s important to tell you right away, even though if we are not sure, just so you guys, you guys know.
Jay Ruderman: because the, the scene where the doctor sort of says, you know, there are, indications that your son may have down syndrome. What did you think of the way he delivered that information at, at such a time? I mean, how did that hit you?
Olivier Bernier: it took a moment that I thought would be one of the best in my life and made it one of the worst I thought. I don’t know that it was necessarily the way he delivered it. It could be, I don’t know if there’s any easy way to deliver it, but the fact that he kind of created some doubt, it wasn’t certain that he had Down Syndrome and he was very apologetic for it.
I wonder if that was maybe the best way to go about it. knowing what I know now. Down syndrome is not doom and gloom. Down syndrome is just another thing. It’s just another way, just another way of living. and I wish that perhaps I was better informed and that it was more.. presented a little differently.
Let’s put it that way.
Jay Ruderman: Right. So there were no indications during the pregnancy and all of the tests that, someone goes through, um, before the actual birth that you have, that your child may have had Down Syndrome.
Olivier Bernier: No, there was absolutely no indication that we would have a so with down syndrome and, in fact, the statistically we were at very low risk of it. so it was a complete shock in the moment. I think had we had a little preparation for it, it might have been a little easier of a moment, but it was just the next 24 hours after his birth were very dramatic.
Jay Ruderman: Right. your wife Hilda features prominently in the film. was that something that from the start, she wanted to be part of this film or was it a discussion between the two of you? How did that come about?
Olivier Bernier: Yeah, so when we started making the film, like I was saying, it was more of a. Cerebral look at inclusive education. So I was filming with experts and just trying to understand what inclusive education is. Why is it not everywhere and how does it work? But as I was making that film, we started to see our own son going down a path of segregation.
And at that point I started filming it and I spoke with Ilda and we had a discussion and we both came to the conclusion that if we don’t at least try to capture this, Then what are we doing? because I, I think that, as you said earlier, true change happens when people can see and believe. at that moment, we didn’t know what would be in store for Emilio, but we knew that it wasn’t looking good. So that’s why we decided to start filming Emilio so closely. And ultimately that became a large part of the film and we kind of pivoted, from the film we were making to the film you see today. I definitely didn’t intend to ever appear in the film, let’s put it that way.
Jay Ruderman: Had you ever made a film in the past where you were featured,
Olivier Bernier: No, no, I’m not that kind of director. I much prefer to be behind the camera.
Jay Ruderman: right.
Olivier Bernier: you know, I think it happened even in the earlier cuts. I, I was very resistant to it. I thought that I had plenty of opportunity to speak just through the filmmaking and that I didn’t feel like I needed to be visible. But then it became apparent. It looked like I was kind of an absent father to Emilio if I didn’t appear in the film. So we started to, the editor started to add more and more of me into the film, and that’s kind of how I ended up in the film.
Jay Ruderman: Right, and, and your wife is obviously, extremely emotional through the whole process of, you His birth is growing up, his education before he enters into the official New York City school system. did she hold any reservations at any time about having such a prominent role in the film?
Olivier Bernier: Ilda is a very strong woman, and I think she saw the vision pretty quickly about how important this was because she was a special educator, but she had never been on this side of the table and she had no idea what it was like to be on the other side of the table, so she felt like, It was an important and valuable resource to other parents and other teachers, to show what was happening. So I don’t think she had reservations about being on camera, but she did at some point have reservations about inclusive education because being a professional in the field, she believed that we should listen to the other professionals, that they know what they’re doing. That’s maybe where there was some resistance on her part. Because the, all the professionals are saying Emilia would do better in a small, segregated class where he’s separated from all the other children. And I just didn’t see it that way. And as soon as she visited the Henderson school, she didn’t see it that way either.
Jay Ruderman: Right. the Henderson School is in, is in Boston and, part of the film you visit the Henderson school. What makes that school unique amongst other schools in, in the United States?
[Forget Me Not Excerpt]
When you put three-year-olds together, three-year-olds think it’s normal to be different, and we embrace differences at age three. Somewhere around age eight, we start to qualify differences, and we start to say some people are just not intelligent. Some people are gifted and talented and they should be separated.
We disagreed. We kept all of our students together and we rose to be one of the highest academically performing elementary schools for students with and without disabilities.
Olivier Bernier: So the Henderson school’s a Boston Public School and. The only difference is that 40% of the people that attend this school have a disability and 20% of those people have a significant disability, and they’re all included in the same class. There’s not a single segregated special class. When I first read about the school, I was like, oh, well that’s interesting. It seems like a place we should visit. And as soon as you open the doors to this school, it’s your whole world changes. You see something that you’re like, this is, this is exactly what school should be like. This is the school I wish I went to, and we spent about two weeks. In the school of filming, and what I learned is that inclusive education is very possible. It just takes the right people to make it happen.
Jay Ruderman: Right. And, and I think it’s striking that it is part of the, the Boston Public School system. and you juxtapose that to what happens throughout much of the film, of your experience with the New York City public School system, which is set up in a very different way. there’s a quote in the film, which is a statistic from a conference at the UN that they said in 1985, the average life expectancy of a person with Down syndrome was 25. And at the time of the film it is 61.
[Forget Me Not Excerpt]
Good morning and welcome to the eighth Annual Walk Down Syndrome Day in 1985. The average life expectancy of someone with Down Syndrome was just 25 years, less than 30 years later. This is 61.]
Olivier Bernier: I, I think there’s multiple things there. There’s definitely, the medical field has advanced and has been able to help people with Down syndrome. especially at birth. There’s a lot of hard defects. There’s a lot of issues that, that we dealt with with our own son, and those have been amazing advances. I think what you really have to look at though, is how we value people in society and self-worth and what that does to a person.
I think that if at a very young age you tell someone that you don’t belong, you start disenfranchising them and you don’t give a person a reason to live. how does anybody. Survive in a world where they’re not wanted. You know? And I, I think that’s the biggest leap we’ve taken, is starting to value people with disabilities and showing the world how much they’re worth to us.
Jay Ruderman: Sure . I’m struck in the film how when you film Emilio as a very young child, he has a lot of, therapy done at home. speech therapy and, and some other, forms of therapy. And, and he seems to be making tremendous progress, in speaking and in being able to communicate. and you juxtapose that to when you go into the system, in the New York City school system.
What is an I E P evaluation? why is it done? As early as the age of two or three years old and, and how that can essentially affect the future of their life.
Olivier Bernier: Yeah, I e p is is another one of those educational acronyms, but maybe the most important for someone with a disability, it’s an individualized educational plan and the. Point of an i e P is really to draw up a strategy for how we’re gonna accommodate and help a child succeed. what ends up happening is the I E P process is really a way to segregate children.
the i e P is mandated by law and the law says that you should start in the least restrictive environment. so at two and a half years old, child transitions from the medical model, which is early intervention, where people come in, therapists come in, and in our case, did a wonderful job with Emilio.
We just saw so much advancement and we said, well, this IEP is gonna be a breeze to go into the educational system. What they do is they bring, Evaluators. They sit down with Emilio for about half an hour, an hour in some cases, and they test him. They give him essentially an IQ test and different types of tests for physical ability, and from that, they’re supposed to determine what Emilio needs.
The problem with most school districts, and especially New York, is that they use these evaluations to find reasons to segregate the children from an early age. a child might have their first i e P at five or six years old if it’s determined that they need an I E P once they start schooling. But Emilio was born with Down Syndrome and many people are aware of the challenges of Down Syndrome.
So he was immediately booked for an I E P, think still. Today that the i e P is both an amazing advancement in education, but also problematic. because as soon as you start to determine what a child is capable of, based on tests that are really kind of archaic at this point, you start to run into problems.
Touch blue. Touch my blue, blue. I know I’m pushing too much. I know, boo. I know you already did so much. I know, I know. But he, I mean, he has some skills. So that’s, the scores will be a little lower probably because he didn’t show a lot. Integrated class. You’ll be a little lost because the classes are big. He’s, he’s gonna be a little overwhelmed.
Jay Ruderman: Yeah, and I think that the film does an awesome job. It’s sort of showing how. In a home environment when he’s working with people that, he knows he’s making tremendous progress. And I think that the filming of the first i e p evaluation, which I do not believe was done in the home, that he was sort of just shutting down. First of all, I would say it’s really impactful that you filmed that, but maybe you can talk about what, what you felt like at the time.
Olivier Bernier: Yeah, I think as a father, it was very confusing at times because one half my brain’s thinking as a filmmaker, half is thinking As a father. As a father, I was, A little sad, I was thinking that this isn’t gonna look good and people are gonna judge him based on this one moment.
And he just woke up today thinking like it was like any other day and he’s been stuck in this weird gray room with this person he doesn’t know, told him and told to stack things. and it’s not the evaluator’s fault, the evaluator was doing exactly what she was tasked to do. But at the same time, Emilio was having a bad day and my wife and I both knew that that was potentially gonna determine his path, that one half hour test.
Jay Ruderman: All right.
Olivier Bernier: you know, it’s hard, hard to, hard to really wrap your head around that.
[Forget Me Not Excerpt]
I feel like I, like, I have not done enough. which, you know, I, I cannot breathe myself over this because I have done everything I can. But it does make me feel like I have not done enough. When Emilio was not sitting at the right time. I had to think about it. How am I gonna get him to sit by himself when he was not rolling? How am I gonna get him to roll? How am I gonna get him to crawl? How am I gonna get him to walk? How am I gonna get him to speak? And I get so excited every time he accomplishes something, and like everything he does is so big for me that I don’t see, I don’t see the delay you know, everything he does is so wonderful. So I just celebrate everything. That’s all I can do.
Jay Ruderman: So was that the turning point for Hilda when she saw that evaluation? Was that when she started to say, oh, this may be problematic in terms of determining my child’s future?
Olivier Bernier: Yeah. there was there was that moment, I think that was probably at the start of it. Looking at it because early intervention, and for listeners who don’t know exactly what it is, is from the age of zero, people come into your home and, and help your child. but Amelia was making such progress and we were so happy with the work he was doing, and he was focused, and we knew that in the right setting, he could succeed in school.
But when we saw that test, we realized that we’re up. Kind of against a bureaucratic wall that we don’t really fully understand how to, to get behind.
Jay Ruderman: Hmm maybe you could talk a little bit about the New York school system, public school system and how it has been set up to segregate children. In fact, there’s a whole nother school where, where people with disabilities, children with disabilities go and they’re essentially not seen by, other children without disabilities. Can you talk a little bit about how the, how the system works in New York?
Olivier Bernier: the school system in New York is over a million children. It’s enormous. It’s the largest in the country. the School system absorbed a lot of children with disabilities when they shut down the institutions in the early eighties.
And what they did was build an institution within the school districts. So they created what’s called district 75 to absorb these children. District 75 is A segregated school district that basically is co-located in buildings around the city. And it contains only children with IEPs. And these children never see any other children during the day.
They only see the children in District 75. They use separate entrances. They don’t go to lunch together, they don’t go to gym together. And largely they’re invisible to all the other children So what we have is a school district within a school and, it’s as segregated as you can get.
Now, mind you, that a lot of schools also have special classes. Not every child goes to district 75, but the fact that District 75 exists is very problematic. furthermore, with New York, New York is, is still a very segregated school system, and in fact parents have to sue often to get out of that segregated setting.
So in 2021, I believe that New York City spent a billion dollars on both lawsuits and sending children to private schools. So it’s clear that New York City is really failing at inclusion.
Jay Ruderman: Right, which is shocking cuz when, you know, we think of New York City as one of the most progressive, cities in the United States, but when it comes to education of children with disabilities, it seems like they’re really towards the bottom.
Olivier Bernier: They, they absolutely are. And you that was my thinking as well. When Emilio was born. I was like, at least we’re in New York City where people. Value other people of different cultures, different races, all different types of people. but well, yeah, when it gets to the school system, it is the most segregated in the country.
[Forget Me Not Excerpt]
My recommendation is still a 1212, but we found a location, a school that is willing to provide integrated the integrated program, and they did let me know that it’s 14 students that they have. So it’s not the initial recommendation, but it’s partial.
So you’re not changing the recommendation?
Well, it’s a partial services.
I am ecstatic that he’s gonna have this opportunity to be in an integrated setting. I, I just don’t see the point of making that recommendation if you’re truly recommending him for an integrated setting.
Well, I’m not truly recommending him from an integrated setting. we keep the 1212 on for right now, then it goes to next year, and then we hit kindergarten.
So just to clarify one last time, if we reconvene this time next year, And he does great?
Then we make it integrated.
Jay Ruderman: Can you talk a little bit about what happens after the initial i e p? Because there’s a whole process and maybe could talk about due process and what that means and, and what you’re doing as a family at that point in time.
Olivier Bernier: Yeah, so after Emilio’s first, i e p, he was recommended for a segregated setting at two, at just under three years old. at that point we didn’t accept the recommendation and we decided that we need, to get an advocate on our side because even though IDO was a professional, they really didn’t listen to us and we didn’t have any input.
In fact, the, the recommendation was already written before we entered the room. And as a parent, your only recourse is due process, which you know, was written into the law, the I D E A and allows a parent to fight a recommendation. But it takes a lot of resources and it takes a lot of time.
we reconvened and we went with an advocate and we were able to negotiate an exception where he was still recommended a segregated setting, but they would allow him to go to this one preschool in Queens that was willing to work with us to have him included. And if he was successful for a year in that preschool, then they would change the i e P to a fully inclusive, or as they call it, a New York integrated setting. And, he was successful. So, you know, we went into the second year i e p thinking that this is gonna go smooth. We were really, There was an eerie calmness actually looking back on it, because we were confident. We knew that his teacher was happy with his performance. We knew that Emilia was enjoying school, all the things that you want out of a two and a half year old, and he was, Really more advanced than other children his age because he had received so many lessons at home, growing, you know, up to that point.
you know, we went into the second year, i e p and things didn’t go our way.
[Forget Me Not Excerpt]
We’ve seen a lot of progress. You know, he can do a lot of things. He knows a lot of letters.
All right, so give me a second. I think you could pause.
So what we’ve been learning so far, I’m going to have to stick with my recommendation of a 12. 12. Um, and if the family wants to proceed with their due process, they can. at this point, this is what we’re, what we’re gonna end up doing. What I believe is the most appropriate setting for him is a 1212. I have to do my due diligence as a C P C administrator, as an employee of the Department of Education, and this is what I believe is most.
It’s not, you don’t know Emilio, you don’t know him. You’ve never, you know, you’ve seen him once for a few hours. You don’t know him. You don’t know what’s appropriate for him.
Jay Ruderman: what happens at that point? Like where, where do you go? You’re, you’re at loggerheads with, with the school system in New York City, they’re saying, we want Amelia to be in a segregated environment. You want an inclusive environment, you have an advocate working with you to try to get him into an inclusive environment.
Olivier Bernier: At that point, we first go to mediation. So with mediation, um, were able to have a temporary resolution where, we were able to negotiate a six month trial period, so to speak. but we knew that wouldn’t exactly last, had they not given us that opportunity, we would have had to go to court.
Jay Ruderman: once they had that opportunity, did it lead to him being in an environment that that was inclusive?
Olivier Bernier: Yeah, well it was an interesting time because they gave him a six month window to try inclusive education and, we were probably in the most segregated setting in history where every child was learning from home and a laptop. so it was a complicated time for everyone, but especially for Emilio.
And I came out of that. The pandemic and the lockdown and all that, and schools being shut down thinking that people are really gonna get this inclusion thing. Like we’ve seen a lot of aggression with children, we’ve seen a lot of depression. We’ve seen all these bad effects of what happens when a child is segregated. Um, and it wasn’t the case. We actually see more segregation today than we did before the pandemic.
Jay Ruderman: Right. There’s a quote, by an educator in the film that I think is very powerful.
I think we should look at, it’s similar, similar to the way we looked at desegregation in the civil rights movement. It’s, it’s providing opportunities and having the mindset that that kids are capable. Mm-hmm. And exclusion is something the construct of the adults, right, that we impose on kids.
Jay Ruderman: What does that mean to you?
Olivier Bernier: Well, going back to the Henderson school, when you see, when you walk into this school, you see children of all different types of all different abilities. Playing together, hanging out, learning together, learning with each other, and children don’t see the disabilities. They see differences, but they don’t see it as a disability.
They just see it as a difference. And they celebrate those differences. But they, and they’re friends, they help each other. adults that teach children that they’re different. And to not look, to not ask questions, to be shy, to look away. Those are the things I was taught I really, you know, wish that wasn’t the case. if we wanna look at an inclusive society, and if we wanna look at this society we wanna live in, that really has to start in the classroom. And, you know, those children that go to those inclusive settings, they’re gonna grow up seeing people with disabilities in a very different light.
Jay Ruderman: Sure. Yeah. I think it’s one of the most powerful aspects of an inclusive education, the impact it has on children without disabilities.
Did you ever give any thought to during this whole process of like, oh, maybe we don’t want to be in New York. Maybe we want to, move up to Boston or move into a community where this will be a little bit easier for a Emilio?
Olivier Bernier: I actually looked at real estate in Dorchester to see if it was something we could afford, which is where the, the Henderson school is. what’s interesting is the Henderson School, has, almost no waiting list for people with disabilities, but has a very long waiting list for neurotypically developing children.
And the school is so highly regarded that the real estate around this school has skyrocketed. But that, that aside, it’s really troubling to think that someone would have to move in order, move from their community where they plan to raise their child in order to find inclusive education, which is really a civil right, and, and in my mind, a human right. if you really just take a quick look at the socioeconomic picture of the I E P and what it does to children of lower means, I had the opportunity to make a film about Emilio and to learn to talk to the leading experts all over the country, some all over the world, and I still had to bear down and fight to get Emilio included. I can’t imagine what it’s like if you don’t have that opportunity. And by the way, my Emilio’s mom is a special education teacher with a master’s degree.
Jay Ruderman: Right,
Olivier Bernier: You know, and it still was difficult. so I, I just, there’s definitely inequity built into the system.
Jay Ruderman: when your film ends. We don’t really know what the future, what Amelia’s future is gonna be. Can you talk about what’s happened since the end of the filming? Where has he been educated?
Olivier Bernier: Yeah, so during the pandemic we actually moved. Back to New Jersey. we had a second child, Camilla, so Emilio’s a big brother now, and the school district. Thank you. The school district that, we’re in has been for the most part, pretty supportive. they’ve pushed back here and there, but they’ve been pretty supportive of wanting to include Emilio.
And today, Emilio’s fully included in kindergarten. He’s. The most popular kid in his class, from what I’m told, he gets invited to all the birthday parties and he’s got a lot of friends and it’s, it’s just really amazing to see him flourish in that setting. We’ve seen him advance in so many ways, ma mature, his maturity has increased.
his ability to communicate has flourished. we’re very happy with Emilio’s progress and what he’s doing today, but most importantly, he’s a happy kid and that’s, That’s what we want.
Jay Ruderman: I think that’s all we ever want for our children. I keep telling my kids who are a little bit older and said, find your happiness. I mean that, that’s where you want to be. What advice would you give, to families that are struggling with the New York City’s special education system, what do you want them to take away from your experience?
Olivier Bernier: I think the most important thing is that Emilio’s story just happened to be the one I filmed, but Emilio’s story represents millions of other kids around the country and around the world that are going through the same thing. So you’re not alone. But second, I would say that the biggest.
Impact you can make. And the biggest difference you can make is to fight with everything you have to get your child included. Because for every child that breaks that barrier, for every child that gets included in general education, they’re opening the door to many child children behind them. So I would say, you know, stay strong and trust your gut. They’re gonna tell you along the way that it’s not the right setting, that they’re gonna do so much better in a small class, even though no studies support that. but just know that all the, the trouble is worth it and that you’re making the world a little better by doing it.
[Forget Me Not Excerpt]
Every child is entitled to have their education in the least restrictive environment. Basically, you start with the environment that the typical child is being educated in. So a general education setting with the use of supplementary aids.
[why wouldn’t you want Aiden to be in a segregated setting? What’s known as a special class with no typical children? There was less students in the class with teacher to student ratios. More intensive. 6 1 1 8, 1 1 12, 1 1. It would seem that that’s something you would want to do, but there’s no study that supports placing them in a segregated setting is actually good for the child. However, there’s literally hundreds of studies that support integrating children.
Jay Ruderman: And what happened to the case there, there’s, there’s an attorney outside of New York City, who was bringing the school system to court, even though his, his child was already. Aging out of the school system. Do you know what happened with his case? and if any changes came about as a result of him challenging the system?
Olivier Bernier: Yeah, well, I’m excited to announce just two weeks ago that he finally won case. believe they went to the state, New York State Supreme Court and they decided in favor of Aiden. that case took eight years. So Aiden is gonna be attending his local high school for the first time at 21 years old.
Jay Ruderman: That’s amazing. But it’s it’s amazing that so much has, has, I mean, I, I think the, that, that. Aiden’s father dedicated himself to a cause. not just for Aiden’s benefit, but for the benefit of other children coming after him. but also, do we really need that? Do we have to, you know, fight the system so hard in order to create the change that benefits everyone? it’s depressing. It’s depressing that, that we have to go through that, that he had to go through that in order to achieve justice.
Olivier Bernier: Absolutely. I, I think that, You know, the most important thing to remember is the law is, is quite clear and it’s pretty strong in terms of integrating children into general education. This little law that was written in the late nineties, it was signed by Bill Clinton in the late nineties, and it’s, it’s the law of the land, a child must start in the least restrictive environment.
unfortunately, laws aren’t the end all, because, There’s loopholes, like, like we all know, there’s loopholes in laws and people skirt around it, and school districts have gotten really savvy at doing it and for a school district for some reason that I, a reason that I still can’t wrap my head around.
They rather spend eight years in. Courts fighting a child being included versus spending that money on, including them. And I don’t know if this is born out of the institutional era or where the thinking is coming from, but some people just believe people with disabilities don’t belong with other children.
I think that more than writing stronger laws, what we have to do is really. Inform and educate our society as to what it means to be included and what it means to be segregated. I think one thing that I didn’t know before making this film is that an inclusion class is actually a better environment for all learners no matter what the ability level. There’s more educators in the classroom, there’s different ways of teaching a lesson. Everybody benefits from that. And never mind the, the component component of empathy that’s learned. there’s so many soft skills that are learned that you can’t really, put numbers to.
Jay Ruderman: Well, I think that this is often the case that, that you can have laws that try to correct injustices. but unless you. Change societal attitudes. that’s the real challenge. And I think that’s where like a film like, forget me, not Comes in and, and, can you tell me how many people you think have seen this film and, and where it is right now and, and what impact you’ve been able to see that the film has had?
Olivier Bernier: When we were making the film, we really didn’t know what would happen with it. at some point, there was the thought of like, why are people gonna wanna watch this, this film about my family? what we’ve seen since the film’s release is just an enormous response, especially from the disabilities community, parents reaching out to us saying, Thank you.
they see their own struggle reflected in the film, and thank you for shining a light on it. these i e p meetings are, are kept in the dark. Nobody knows about them. And, I think one of the biggest impacts we’re having is we’re. Screening the film to a lot of educators. So that’s the future teachers that are gonna be entering the field.
That’s the future administrators, the future principals that are gonna be running schools, and they’re seeing the film, and I hope that they take something away from it. about inclusive education, how important it is. actually just today we’re, we’re screening the film for the, uh, special education, the Office of Special Education Programs, osap, which is, uh, part of the Federal doe and they’re screening the film and hopefully gonna have a really good discussion about it.
But I think that, People forget this is going on because it’s kept in the shadows and I hope the film continues to shine a light. There’s, on our website, there’s a way to set up community screenings, which a lot of people have been taking advantage of. sharing the film with 2, 5, 10 people, it gets word out there and it helps, uh, spread the message of inclusion.
Jay Ruderman: So if someone wants to see the film, what’s where? Where’s the best place for them to go to see it?
Olivier Bernier: good starting point is our website. You can go to fmn dot.com or forget me not documentary.com. And on the website there’s a list of all the streaming services. There’s new ones being added all the time. Amazon’s a really popular one. And then, service called two B where the film’s actually screening for free.
Um, there’s just a little bit of advertising before the film and, The Other than that, there’s DVDs that are available for educational and for personal use. And as I mentioned, there’s screening request button where the distributor will help set up a screening. And then, looking even further, we’re hoping to raise money to, find partners to screen the film on PBS eventually. So that’s the, the long term goal.
Jay Ruderman: Well, I think it’s a very powerful film because of the personalities involved because. Emilio and, Hilda and yourself, personally going through this, I think it draw, it draws people in and I, I would encourage everyone who’s in interested in inclusive education, to access it and to watch it.
I just wanna ask you as a filmmaker, what do you see the role of cinema or entertainment in terms of generating activism and change in our society?
Olivier Bernier: I got into filmmaking because it gave me a window to the world. Since humanity, we’ve always learned through storytelling and I feel like cinema and filmmaking is one of the most complete forms of storytelling where it’s experiential and we get to live in someone’s shoes. it’s extremely important to continue the tradition of making films that shine a light on things that we don’t normally see. And, without filmmaking, I think we have a world that’s easily. Corrupted. and one that we can’t form our own opinions. I think you should watch. Forget me, not, I think you should watch films. Maybe there’s pro segregation films out there. I don’t know. But you should be able to form your own opinion and I think that’s the power of filmmaking. And filmmaking is only as powerful as the people that see the movie. So, you know, I think that’s the most important thing.
Jay Ruderman: you mentioned at the, at the end of the film some action items that you want the viewers, to take to, to effectuate change. Could you talk about some of them?
Olivier Bernier: Absolutely. I, I think that the credit role is just as important as the movie. We charge people with the task to call their school and to ask how many classrooms are inclusive in their school. And if there’s none, ask why not? And if there are, ask to put your child in it. And I’m not just saying children of with disabilities, I’m saying put your neurotypical children in it because. In order to affect change. We can’t just do it with children with disabilities. It has to be everyone that’s on board for a more inclusive classroom. The second component is, that we made the film with an inclusive crew. And I think the inclusive workplace is equally as important. So, I hope people take something away from that as well.
Jay Ruderman: Yeah, I thought that was really, powerful as the credits were rolling and you saw, you know, the, the crew and, and that there were many people with disabilities in the crew. was it difficult to get the crew together?
Olivier Bernier: Yeah, it was, it was a learning process for me personally. it, it was a little bit of a challenge to find people to work on the film that had a disability. And then with the documentary, often you’re just two or three people. For interview setups, we were a little larger and we brought on people with disabilities to help us out, and we taught them what we knew.
some, some people had already been on film sets and knew a lot, and in fact were teaching me some stuff. So I think overall the experience was, was really great. It was a learning experience for me and one that. I think was also an exploration because I have a, maybe it’s a bias and I’m not gonna push it on Emilio, but I hope one day he, he joins me on set.
Jay Ruderman: Wow, that’d be awesome. So Olivia, what’s, what’s the next step for you? What are you working on now? what’s in your future?
Olivier Bernier: filmmaking is my profession, so I, I do that on a, on a get to do that on a daily basis, which I feel really fortunate. mostly commercial work. But as far as the next, film, when we started, Making, forget me now. When we started editing, it started at four and a half hours long and we had to whittle it down so much. And the third act of the film was really to be about if we have inclusive education, what does it lead to? Well, it’s a more inclusive society, and we started filming that and we ended up not being able to include it in the film. So I hope, so the next film I’m working on is really about inclusion in society and specifically the workplace.
Jay Ruderman: Yeah. That’s so important. I mean, we’ve done a lot of work in the entertainment. world and sort of calling out inauthentic representation of people with disabilities and, and we’ve seen some success, but I think it, it also takes some leadership. I think where there’s a desire to put this forward, it happens and the more it happens, I think the more people get used to it and understand this is maybe the just world that we should be living in.
my name is Emilio Andres.
I want to be someone that grows up with the same opportunities as everyone else. I want to be surrounded by people that love me for who I am and all my strengths. I want to be as independent as possible so I can explore all the beauty and diversity this world. Most importantly, I have so much to offer and can’t wait to show everyone what I am capable of.
Jay Ruderman: I wish you a tremendous amount of SU success as you continue in in your career. I think the film was so powerful. I’m gonna urge all my listen listeners to find a way to see, forget me, not, I wanna wish you and Hilda and Emilio all the best as you go forward, because I think, watching the film, we all fell in love with your family.
so thank you so much, Olivia, for being my guest today and, and all about change and, may we all go from strength to strength.
Olivier Bernier: Thank you so much.
Jay Ruderman: Thank you.
Jay: All About Change is a production of The Ruderman Family Foundation. This show is produced by Yochai Maital and Mijon Zulu.
As always – be sure to come back in two weeks for another inspiring story. I’ll be talking to Kris Henning, Prof of Law of Georgetown, and Director of the Juvenile Justice Clinic where she represents youth accused of delinquency in the D.C. Superior Court. Our conversation quickly got deep into race, adolescence, and policing. So that’s coming to your ears in two weeks. In the meantime, you can go check out all of our previous content – live on our feed and linked on our website – Allaboutchangepodcast.com
Lastly – If you enjoy our show, please help us spread the word. Tell a friend or family member, or consider writing a review on your favorite podcasting app. I’m Jay Ruderman and I’ll catch you next time on “All About Change”.
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