There Are Two Sides to Every Story

I’m on a bit of a rampage tonight about a fiction, short film that just wrapped filming on So Cal called “IEP.” The director, Jason Gilmore, lists the plot of the film on the film website this way:

“IEP is a short film that tells the fictional story of Xavier, an 8-year-old African-American boy in South Los Angeles. The product of an absent father, damaged mother, well-meaning, but naive teacher, and apathetic or vindictive school administrators and staff, his character flaws are magnified, even as his test scores are promising. We focus on the struggles that he faces when he is misdiagnosed as a behavioral problem and placed in special education. This is a growing American problem and we have made this film to shed light on it.”

Now, first let me say, I have not read the script, I have not seen the film. I have been following its progress on the website and on the Facebook group.

Let me second say, that I agree – there is a problem with minority children often being shuttered in special education because of behavioral issues caused by many things – environment, past or present trauma, living situation, etc. There is news out this weekend that foster care children get prescribed anti-psychotic medication more often than other groups of children, and I think that is a subject we could talk about and debate for days.

But – Mr. Gilmore – I have some issues with the premise of this film.

First, “behavioral problem” is not a valid IEP category, in any city, in any state in the country. Emotional Disturbance is. Behavior can be a manifestation of a disability that is valid for an IEP, but it is not a category on its own.

Second – and I’m sure you’ll read the comments here – there is an equally large problem of schools going out of their way to DENY services and IEPs to children that ACTUALLY need them. Read the very public and well-publicized struggle of the Schofields here, if you want an example. Or you can just watch their story on Oprah and 20/20, or read about it in the LA Times. THAT IS AN IEP DENIAL STORY. A huge one.

Third – the stigma around special education and special services for kids is what I feel your film will perpetuate. How many parents will avoid asking the school for the help their child rightfully needs because they fear the label that your film says the child will have stuck on their forehead forever?

Please remember, Mr. Gilmore, there are two sides to every story. All the discussion groups and podcasts and blog postings about the side you are glorifying in film are just one side. Don’t forget our side.

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  • Jason December 14, 2009 at 12:55 pm

    Hi Chrisa,

    Thank you for your letter and for discussing our film on your blogsite. As I stated before when you addressed this issue on our Facebook page, we have never said that our story is the only story concerning IEPs or special education. What we are saying is that the issue of African-American boys being misdiagnosed is becoming a major problem and we wanted to focus our energy on talking about it, because we haven't seen where anyone else is.

    You are correct in your assertions about the term "behavioral problem", however, as you will see in the film, that is the terminology used because it is his behavior that leaves him susceptible to his principal's desire to see him placed in special education. Every child who has behavioral problems does not belong in special education.

    We feel if we can bring awareness to the children who are being placed in this system wrongly, it will open the door for the children you speak of to get the services they do need.

    I hope you are not viewing us as being on opposite sides. After you see the film, I hope we can work together to find a solution to the real issue at hand: that the system is not working and our children are suffering as a consequence.

  • K Sorl December 15, 2009 at 1:40 pm

    Chrissa, I've been reading your blog, just was referred to it tonight and have been reading for awhile now. I'm still up to August. All I can say is that you are an incredible woman with tremendous inner strength. This post was well written with points I agree whole heartedly with. Keep strong and know that you are supported, by many more than just those who comment.

  • Chrisa December 20, 2009 at 6:02 am

    Jason: thanks for your comment. I look forward to seeing the movie. But, as the mother of an African American son – and daughter, both with necessary IEPs – I hope you'll understand my side.

    We've been damaged in the past in getting help for our kids by California laws enacted because of an abuse of the system that was sensationalized and then services eliminated rather than fixed. Did you know that in California is is illegal for a school district to do intelligence testing on African American students, because of abuses in the Oakland school district in the 1970's (another inconsistency that I fear may be in your script – that the protagonist was IQ tested – impossible in CA).

    If you COULD test these children for intelligence in CA, a lot of those with IEPs that don't really need them could be eliminated. But, someone with a legitimate grievance racially sensationalized the story, and now everyone suffers.