Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker is calling in the cavalry to help the state with transporting students to class at the beginning of the new school year.
Baker announced that he is activating as many as 250 Guard members to assist with school transportation as the country contends with a massive bus driver shortage that left some districts scrambling to get students to class.
“We asked a bunch of communities if they'd be interested in having Guard people drive vehicles for them, especially the smaller buses," Baker said in a briefing this week.
"A bunch of communities said if you can figure out the legal issues and the paperwork and all the rest, that would be great."
With 250 Guard members available, the state will begin by preparing 90 of them for service in Chelsea (Suffolk County), Lawrence (Essex County), Lowell (Cambridge), and Lynn (Essex County).
“Once it became pretty clear that there were going to be some communities shorthanded — it wasn't going to be a vehicle issue, it was going to be people with (commercial driver's licenses) — we started talking to the Guard."
These Guard personnel will be available to serve as drivers of school transport vans known as 7D vehicles - known as “school pupil transport vehicles” to address staffing shortages in certain districts.
As with any school transportation employee, all activated Guard personnel brought in to assist will complete vehicle training and drivers will have to meet all requirements for 7D drivers.
According to the governor, there were already several members of the Guard with commercial driver’s licenses for professional or Guard-related reasons.
“There are a bunch of communities who have said they’re interested in this and we’re glad to be able to help because it’s important,” he said.
The mission will not interfere with the Massachusetts National Guard’s ability to respond to and assist in emergencies within the Commonwealth.
The announcement comes as the nation contends with a massive shortage of school bus drivers that has forced some districts to cancel classes, shift routes, have drivers run back-to-back shifts, or have parents take their kids to school.
According to a recent survey, nearly half of student-transportation coordinators described their driver situation as “severe” or “desperate.”
In a survey of school districts last month, 65 percent "indicated that bus driver shortage is their number one problem or concern," according to a release by the National Association for Pupil Transportation (NAPT), the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services (NASDPTS), and the National School Transportation Association (NSTA), which conducted the joint survey.
“As school districts across the country return to in-person learning and COVID continues to have an impact on education in general and school transportation scheduling and logistics in particular, the shortage of school bus drivers has become conspicuous," NAPT Executive Director Mike Martin said in the release. "But let's be clear -- this is not a new problem. Nor it is easy to solve."
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