As asweeps across the nation, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker has deployed National Guard personnel to address the problem in his state. Beginning Tuesday, up to 250 Massachusetts guard members were made available to drive students to and from school to address the lack of staff.
“The safe and reliable transportation to school each day is critical to our children’s safety and education,” Baker wrote on Twitter Monday.
National Guard personnel will drive students in special school transport vans called 7D vehicles, and they will undergo vehicle training before becoming temporary drivers, the governor’s office said in a statement. On Tuesday, 90 guard members began preparing service for school districts including Chelsea, Lawrence, Lowell and Lynn.
The Guards’ assistance will not hinder their duty to respond to and assist in emergencies. The mission’s cost will be reimbursed by the federal government, Baker said.
“We are grateful and thankful that somebody was definitely thinking out of the box,” Chelsea School Superintendent Almi Abeyta told CBS Boston. “When I got the call, I was like ‘oh, that’s an interesting solution, yes, OK!'”
The mission comes amid growing calls from local communities to address the bus driver shortage in the state.
Earlier this month, Boston’s acting Mayor Kim Janey and Boston Public Schools Superintendent Brenda Cassellius told families to prepare for delays amid staffing shortages in the new school year, CBS Boston reported. The district even offered to pay drivers extra for showing up to school early.
Days before the school year began, the Boston School Bus Union called for in-person classes to be postponed altogether, saying that the overlapping problems are “transportation chaos.”
“It would appear that it was the result of mismanagement and incompetent routing,” the union said in a statement.
School districts across the country have grappled with a shortage of school bus drivers in the wake of the pandemic —to those who agree to drive their children to school for the year.
“Typically there have been bus driver shortages at the beginning of the school year during the last few years, but the pandemic exacerbated that,” National School Transportation Association Executive Director Curt Macysyn told CBS MoneyWatch. “We are challenged like a lot of industries are challenged.”