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National Guard mobilized to drive kids to school in Massachusetts

Posted at 3:53 PM, Sep 28, 2021

CHELSEA, Mass. — A school bus driver shortage is causing problems all over the country.

"It is hard, and it's frustrating because we finally have our schools clean, we've put safety precautions into place our students are vaccinated, 12 and up, and we're ready to go, and then our kids are running late because of the transportation issues," said Almi Abeyta, superintendent of the Chelsea school district.

She knows the community in Chelsea, Massachusetts, has been through a lot. It was one of the hardest hit by covid in spring 2020. She knows that impacted students.

"Our students haven't been here in an entire year," said Abeyta.

When they returned at the end of March 2021, Abeyta says 40% opted to stay in remote learning, and this fall was the first time they were back in a classroom.

Now that they've hit a new bump in the road.

"School bus drivers don't grow on trees," said John McCarty, who operates NRT transportation and is responsible for getting 125 thousand kids to school every day.

The only problem is right now, and he doesn't have enough drivers.

"You know 18 months is a long time to go without a paycheck if you couldn't collect unemployment. We have some older folks that are concerned based on COVID-19," said McCarty.

So the state of Massachusetts is putting the national guard in the driver's seat to get kids to and from school.

"They do all kinds of things to help out folks like us anywhere from protecting our freedom to now driving our children," said McCarty.

"We do know that the national guard brought in 15 services members to drive the buses mostly door to door," said Abeyta.

Chelsea is one of at least nine school districts that will receive drivers from the Massachusetts National Guard.

The Massachusetts National Guard declined to be interviewed for this story.

But in a statement, Governor Charlie Baker said guard members received "vehicle training, background screening, as well as a thorough review of all health and safety measures."

Lack of school bus drivers isn't just a Massachusetts problem.

Districts across the country are grappling with the same shortage.

"We speak to organizations that are like ours. Across the board, they're looking at 15-20% shortage," said McCarty.

Abeyta says the national guard is there to help when America's in need, so this unique solution makes perfect sense.

"We've had the national guard here during the pandemic, and they were distributing food.

The national guard also gave vaccinations to residents. So we have a very trusting relationship already with the national guard, so that's why I went ahead and moved forward with this," said Abeyta.