TSD Keynote Speaker Brings Special Needs Transportation Legal Expertise

by | Sep 6, 2023

Special education attorney Betsey Helfrich is returning to the Transporting Students with Special Needs and Disabilities Conference keynote stage in November to share her legal expertise on recent cases that could affect attendees.

The general session “Transportation of Special Education Students: Avoiding the Bumps and Legal Hazards” will be held on Friday, Nov. 17 during the TSD Conference in Frisco, Texas.

Helfrich will answer the pressing question facing special needs transportation professionals, “What are areas of liability and how can the district, from a legal standpoint, learn from case law to address concerns regarding student safety?”

She will touch on the details of high-profile cases including the 2002 Susavage v. Bucks County Intermediate case, which involved a student with disabilities who died three years earlier after an incorrectly placed harness cut off her airway on a Pennsylvania school bus, and an incident in  July when a New Jersey school bus aide failed to provide proper supervision of a 6-year-old girl with special needs seated in a wheelchair, resulting in her death.

In both incidents, a crotch strap if used could have kept both children from submarining on either the bus bench seat or in the wheelchair.

To avoid similar incidents from occurring, Helfrich will discuss the importance of the IEP planning process and why clear instructions based on the student’s specific needs should be included. She will also highlight the importance of training and provide communication strategies to ensure that transportation staff are adequately informed and equipped to safely transport students.


She will also speak on challenges facing transportation departments, such as driver shortages, substitutes, ensuring proper use of equipment onboard the school bus and how districts can best minimize liability while also improving student safety.

Immediately following her keynote, Helfrich will facilitate a general session that will include the perspectives of TSD Tenured Faculty members Peggy Burns and Sue Shutump. They will discuss similarities and differences between Susavage and the incident in New Jersey this summer as well as a similar fatal incident in Polk County, Florida in 2018. They will discuss with attendees why improperly secured students continue to die on school buses, and what they can learn from the 25-year-old case law as well as more recent settlements.

Formerly the special education department lead for firm Mickes O’Toole, LLC in St. Louis, Helfrich now owns her own practice and has successfully represented school districts against a variety of claims in state and federal courts. She also provides training and general counsel for districts on various aspects of students with special needs and disabilities education.

Save $100 on conference registration with the Early Bird Discount, valid through October 13. Visit tsdconference.com to register.