The National Guard has been mobilized in Massachusetts to transport children to and from school amid a nationwide bus driver shortage exacerbated by COVID.
Up to 250 members of the Guard will be activated to address the shortage, following a direct order from Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker to deploy the military as school and state officials across the country are forced to leave with the lack of drivers.
“There are a number of communities that have expressed an interest in this and we’re happy to help because it’s important,” Baker told the public of his decision.
Baker added in a tweet: “Safe and reliable transportation to school every day is critical to the safety and education of our children.”
Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker decided to deploy the Massachusetts National Guard to tackle the unprecedented bus driver shortage
Boston school bus drivers union calls shortage ‘worst fiasco we’ve experienced in our careers’
Ninety guards from Massachusetts will begin training on Tuesday, a statement from the state’s Office of Public Safety and Security said.
Ninety guards from Massachusetts will begin training Tuesday to assist with transportation in the Chelsea, Lawrence, Lowell and Lynn school systems, a pronunciation of the State Office of Public Safety and Security.
Officials added that the Guard’s deployment to operate the buses will not hinder the militia force’s ability to handle other emergencies in the state.
Baker said the federal government — not the state — would pick up the bill, but couldn’t estimate how much the aid would cost.
Massachusetts school districts have had a particularly tough start to the year regarding drivers, the Boston Herald reported mainly due to the spread of the COVID-19 delta variant and mask requirements.
The Boston school bus drivers’ union went so far as to campaign to delay the start of the school year, calling the situation “the worst fiasco we’ve seen in our careers.”
The union also revealed that the district has given them more than 100 additional routes at the last minute than they have had in previous years.
On the first day of school last week in Boston, public school officials said only 57 percent of the school’s bus fleet was dropped off on time — with some kids not even making it to school, according to district officials.
The litany of trouble in the state capital comes despite promises from Acting Mayor Kim Janey that student transportation would not be affected by countermeasures to the pandemic.
There has been a growing shortage of school bus drivers for years in the run-up to the COVID-19 pandemic, not just in Massachusetts but nationally — and the rise of the virus has only exacerbated the already existing problem to primordial proportions.
Bus drivers are often a bit older and sometimes even retired, so when the virus hit early last year, many left their jobs over concerns of getting sick.
In addition, after obtaining a commercial license, some drivers are lured to delivery services and trucking companies, rather than the split shifts and unruly children often associated with driving a school bus.
In New York, many districts have 15 to 20 percent fewer drivers than they need.
A New Jersey school district had to cut its days short due to a lack of drivers, causing students to be fired nearly an hour earlier than usual.
The situation is so dire that a school in Delaware even pays parents to drive their children to school.
Similarly, a school district in Montana is offering $4,000 bonuses to entice drivers.
In Chicago, 70 bus drivers — 10 percent of the city’s total pool — abruptly stopped at the start of the school year due to the district’s new COVID-19 vaccine mandate, WBEZ reported.
The move left some 2,100 students with no way to go to school.
Pittsburgh’s public schools have informed families that they are nearly 650 bus seats short for the first day of school on Friday, and a district even postponed the start of classes because hundreds more children would still have to walk to school.
Schools in the US offer hiring bonuses, provide the training needed to earn a commercial driver’s license, and increase hourly wages to attract more drivers.
But the problem is still dire – and the school year has only just begun.
According to the National School Transportation Association, the nationwide need for drivers is expected to remain at “critical levels” in the coming months, with impacts extending well into the school year.