Massachusetts governor activates National Guard to help offset school bus driver shortage

BOSTON — A critical bus driver shortage prompted Gov. Charlie Baker on Monday to activate the Massachusetts National Guard to assist with ongoing school transportation woes.

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The order, announced by the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security, makes as many as 250 Guard members available as needed statewide, WFXT reported.

Training for the first 90 Guard members is slated to begin Tuesday, preparing troops for service in Chelsea, Lawrence, Lowell and Lynn, the announcement stated.

Specifically, school systems in certain districts suffering the worst driver shortages will be allowed to supplement their fleets with school transport vans, known as 7D vehicles, operated by the activated Guard members. In turn, the Guard will comply with all health and safety measures throughout the mission, which state officials confirmed would not interfere with its ability to respond to, and assist with, emergencies statewide, WFXT reported.

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“The Massachusetts National Guard trains regularly with military, law enforcement and civilian agencies to provide a broad spectrum of services in support of security, logistics, disaster relief and other missions,” the Massachusetts announcement stated, adding, “The Guard has a proven track record of success supporting civilian authorities. Their frequent side-by-side training with state and local first responders makes them well-suited for a variety of missions.”

According to NPR, a recent survey indicated that half of student-transportation coordinators nationwide characterized their system-specific bus driver shortages as “severe” or “desperate.”

Curt Macysyn, executive director of the National School Transportation Association, called the shortages unprecedented.

“This back-to-school period is nothing like the previous periods we’ve seen,” Macysyn, whose organization conducted the survey alongside two other trade associations, told NPR. “In previous years, we’ve seen regionalized driver shortages, but nothing to the extent that we’re seeing today.”

According to the news outlet, about 10% of Chicago’s roughly 700 school bus drivers quit abruptly over the district’s new COVID-19 vaccine mandate, leaving some 2,100 students, slightly fewer than half of whom are in special education, unable to get to school. Meanwhile, Pittsburgh public schools notified families that they were short nearly 650 bus seats ahead of first-day routes.