National Guard troops are used to being activated during times of natural disaster or civil unrest — but in Massachusetts, they're being called out to drive students to school.
The office of Gov. Charlie Baker said Monday that as many as 250 Guard members would be made available "to address staffing shortages in certain districts," according to a news release. It said that 90 would be training immediately for service in Chelsea, Lawrence, Lowell and Lynn.
The Guard will take over driving duties on some 7D vehicles. Known as "school pupil transport vehicles," 7D vehicles are generally vans.
The announcement comes amid a nationwide shortage of school bus drivers due to the ongoing pandemic, battles over masks and vaccines. As NPR reported this month, in a recent nationwide survey, half of student-transportation coordinators described their school bus driver shortages as either "severe" or "desperate."
The Massachusetts governor, discussing his state's shortage, said: "Once it became pretty clear that there were going to be some communities shorthanded — it wasn't going to be a vehicle issue, it was going to be people with [commercial driver's licenses] — we started talking to the Guard."
Baker said his office had enlisted Guard members who already had such licenses for professional or Guard-related reasons.
"There are a bunch of communities who have said they're interested in this, and we're glad to be able to help because it's important," Baker said.