The National Guard has been activated in Massachusetts — to drive school buses.
The state is among a slew grappling with a shortage of drivers amid COVID-19, officials said.
“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,” said the office of Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker in a statement Monday.
“As with any school transportation worker, all activated Guard personnel will complete vehicle training to ensure the safety of children and families.
“The mission will not interfere with the Massachusetts National Guard’s ability to respond to and assist in emergencies within the Commonwealth,’’ the statement added of the military reserve force — which is more typically called up for duty in the US to address unruly protests and wildfires and other natural disasters.
For now, about 250 guardsmen will be called into service behind the wheel, with training starting Tuesday, Massachusetts officials said.
Ninety of the personnel will initially be deployed to the hard-hit cities of Chelsea, Lawrence, Lowell and Lynn.
The increasing shortage of school-bus drivers, fueled by the coronavirus, is wreaking havoc around the country.
Some of the drivers already sought other work after schools went online in the thick of the pandemic, while others, including many retirees, are reportedly hesitant to expose themselves to unvaccinated kids aboard the busses. And job competition from delivery services such as Amazon isn’t helping the situation.
In New Jersey’s southern Glassboro School District, the lack of drivers has already forced the administration to cut back the school day for older students to consolidate trips.
In Delaware, a charter School in downtown Wilmington is offering cash to parents to drive their kids back and forth.
“EastSide wants to pay you $700 for the year for dropping off and picking up each child from school (example – if you have 3 children we would give you $2,100),” the school’s Web site says. “Delaware is currently facing a bus driver shortage. We believe that empowering parents is the best solution.”
New York City education officials said Tuesday that the Big Apple has dodged the crisis, at least for the moment.
–Additional reporting by Selim Algar and AP