In some Massachusetts communities, you could see bus drivers wearing fatigues on Thursday. That's because members of the National Guard are already practicing bus routes in several cities and towns across the state.
The guard started learning routes and bus stops in Chelsea, Lowell and Lynn on Thursday. Guard members went through training on Wednesday. They underwent medical exams, were fingerprinted, and went through classroom and behind-the-wheel training.
Gov. Charlie Baker activated up to 250 members of the Massachusetts National Guard on Monday to drive 7D school buses, which are vans that carry up to eight passengers. The governor stressed that the busing duties won’t interfere with the guard’s ability to respond to other major state emergencies.
In Chelsea, the vans will drive students who need door-to-door service and those with disabilities.
"We can deploy them to our smaller vans and then some of those bus drivers who are currently driving the vans we can put on our larger buses so our larger buses can run on time," said Almi Abeyta, Chelsea's superintendent of schools.
Abeyta said the guard will probably start driving Chelsea students by the end of the week.
Members of the National Guard will likely drive the buses until December, hopefully giving bus companies enough time to get and train more drivers.
Schools across the U.S. are offering hiring bonuses, providing the training needed to get a commercial driver’s license and increasing hourly pay to attract more drivers this year.
The bus driver shortage has complicated a school year already besieged by the highly contagious delta variant of COVID-19, contentious disagreement over masking requirements, and the challenge of catching up on educational ground lost as the pandemic raged last year.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.