BOSTON — Ninety Massachusetts National Guard members are slated to begin training Tuesday to help transport students in four Massachusetts school districts.
Governor Charlie Baker activated the Massachusetts National Guard on Monday to assist with transportation in Chelsea, Lynn, Lowell and Lawrence. They’ll be driving kids to school in school transport vans known as 7D vehicles during a school bus driver shortage.
NRT BUS, contracted to provide bus service in the four communities and over 100 other Massachusetts districts, commended Gov. Baker’s order.
“There is a true emergency getting these kids back to school,” said John McCarthy, CEO of NRT Bus. “We believe the National Guard is going to be deployed for at least four-to-eight weeks.”
McCarthy told Boston 25 News that the pool of bus drivers in each of the districts NRT serves is short by about 15%. He said a wave of new drivers are beginning to apply but warned that the vetting process can be timely.
“We have about 215 people in the pipeline. It just moves very slow,” McCarthy explained. “We’re having a much better response to the ads now. We believe that has to do with the stimulus package that ended.”
Dr. Almi Abeyta, the superintendent of Chelsea Public Schools, said the National Guard assistance is coming at a crucial time in the school year.
“We’re excited about having some relief because we want to make sure our kids get to school on time,” Abeyta said. “We will be getting 15 more drivers out driving small vans and that will help us tremendously.”
Some parents told Boston 25 News they aren’t sure how to feel about the temporary solution.
“Why does the National Guard need to take these kids? I feel worried about that. I don’t like the idea,” said one Chelsea mother.
The state’s order makes up to 250 personnel available.
Gov. Baker said National Guard transportation assistance was also offered to Boston Public Schools. However, he said Boston Public School officials declined the help for now.
Throughout the mission, the Guard will comply with all health and safety measures, the announcement said. That mission, according to state officials, will not interfere with the Massachusetts National Guard’s ability to respond to, and assist with, emergencies in the state.
©2021 Cox Media Group