A shortage of school bus drivers in Massachusetts is so severe that Governor Charlie Baker has called on the state’s National Guard troops to help get children to class.
Baker announced on Monday that as many as 250 members of the Massachusetts National Guard will be made available to drive school bus routes. Driver training was scheduled to start on Tuesday for 90 Guard troops in the cities of Chelsea, Lawrence, Lowell and Lynn.
“As with any school transportation worker, all activated Guard personnel will complete vehicle training to ensure the safety of children and families,” Baker said. He added that the troops will meet all statutory requirements to drive so-called 7D transport vans and will comply with all health and safety measures.
The help will come quickly. The Lowell school district reportedly expects 15 Guard members to be available to drive bus routes by the end of this week, and they’ll stay on the job until enough permanent drivers can be hired to fill vacant positions.
School districts across the US have struggled to hire enough bus drivers, even as millions of Americans remain unemployed amid the Covid-19 pandemic. Districts in Helena, Montana, and Savannah, Georgia, are offering $4,000 bonuses to new drivers, while a grade school in Delaware is paying parents $700 per student for driving their own children to and from school.
Driver shortages are common in normal times, but the pandemic exacerbated the issue, as many workers retired or found other careers after being furloughed when classes were moved online last year. The Boston Globe reported that more than 1,200 buses ran late in the city last Thursday, the first day of the new school year.
Baker insisted that the bus-driving mission won’t interfere with the National Guard’s ability to respond to other types of emergencies in the state.
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