Gov. Charlie Baker will activate up to 250 members of the Massachusetts National Guard to help cities and towns with school transportation amid widespread bus driver shortages.
“These Guard personnel will be available to serve as drivers of school transport vans known as 7D vehicles to address staffing shortages in certain districts,” according to a statement from the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security.
The 7D vehicles are smaller school transport vans that can carry up to 10 students, according to state law. Activated Guard personnel will complete vehicle training “to ensure the safety of children and families” in accordance with state law, according to a press release.
Ninety members of the guard will begin training on Tuesday for work in Chelsea, Lawrence, Lowell and Lynn, where shortages are among the worst.
A shortage of bus drivers in Massachusetts and across the nation has complicated the start of a school year already besieged by the highly contagious COVID-19 delta variant, fights over masking requirements, and the challenge of catching up on educational ground lost as the pandemic raged last year.
A shortage of school buses meant some didn’t show up on the first day of school last week in Boston despite promises from Acting Mayor Kim Janey that student transportation would be unaffected, some parents complained.
A 57% on-time rate for students arriving at school last Thursday was still better than the five-year average for the first day of school, according to the district.
But the Boston school bus drivers’ union has called the staffing shortage “the worst fiasco we’ve witnessed in our careers” and had pushed officials to postpone the start of school the year — a request that was ultimately denied.
The driver shortfall has been brewing since the spring and labor shortages across many sectors and the pandemic’s lingering effects have made it worse, said Joanna McFarland, co-founder and CEO of school ride-service company HopSkipDrive, which tracks school bus issues.
Her company conducted a survey in March that found nearly 80% of districts that responded were having trouble finding enough bus drivers.
Herald wire services contributed to this report.