Several years ago, I was at Starbucks, buying a pound of coffee to take home. I then asked the barista, “Don’t I get a free cup of coffee when I buy a bag in bulk?”

“It’s only if you ask,” was her reply.

I was taken aback. Apparently, the system was set up to create a conversation. (Starbucks’ policy seems to have changed. The last few times I’ve asked I was told that I can only get a free cup of coffee with my purchase if I use a Starbucks card…). Too bad for me, as I don’t have one (or intend to get one).

But the lesson remains. It’s also the one that my mother left me with.

“Ask!,” she’d say. “The worst thing they can say is ‘no.'”

So, too, in special education! The law is set up to have a conversation. Parents are to ask for services or placements or whatever for their children. Yet, schools are often stymied by these requests (sometimes even demands). They should do what the barista did and my mother said: Consider the request and respond according to what is needed and required under the law.

Just because someone asks, doesn’t mean the answer has to be ‘yes.’ It can be ‘no,’ and the start of a conversation.

About Miriam

Miriam Kurtzig Freedman, JD, MA—an expert in public education, focused on special education law— is a lawyer, author, speaker, consultant, and reformer. For more than 35 years, Miriam worked with educators, parents, policy makers, and citizens to translate complex legalese into plain English and focus on good practices for children. Now, she focuses her passion on reforming special education, with her new book, Special Education 2.0—Breaking Taboos to Build a NEW Education Law. Presentations include those at the AASA Conference, Orange County (CA), Boston College (MA), CADRE (OR), and the Fordham Institute (DC). Her writings have appeared in The Wall Street Journal, Education Week, Education Next, Hoover Digest, The University of Chicago Law Review on line,, and The Atlantic Monthly on line.

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