MONTGOMERY COUNTY, Md. — The Maryland National Guard has been requested in Montgomery County to help with its school system's bus driver shortage, according to a county official, who said the county is going to have a tough few weeks as covid cases continue to rise across the region.
On Tuesday Montgomery County's Assistant Chief Administration Officer Dr. Earl Stoddard told members of the County Council the National Guard had been requested to support Montgomery County Public Schools transportation department amid its driver shortage.
"We’re asking the National Guard to provide bus drivers. I want to let that sink in for people. That is not something we would do under normal circumstances," Stoddard said during Tuesday's council meeting. "My understanding is the National Guard may not be able to help but they’ve also sent it around to counties around who may be able to help us."
Although that request hasn't been granted, per the National Guard, a spokesperson for Maryland's Emergency Management Agency said the request was shared among 23 counties, three cities, and state agencies to see if they can assist.
A spokesperson for MCPS said their office sent the request to the county government, which submitted the formal request to the National Guard.
A Montgomery County Spokesperson said many jurisdictions are facing similar challenges, and are unsure if they will get much support following this route, but are exhausting all options nonetheless.
Stoddard said they are currently doing what they can to figure what resources they can reallocate to support important services during this time, but said it's going to be a very tough three to four weeks during this surge in covid cases.
"These are not normal times. To expect that we, or Ride On, or the school system are going to paper over some of these issues is just an unfair expectation to have whether its public sector, private sector businesses closing for similar reasons, it is unfortunate, it is going to be painful for us and for residences but it’s just a reality of the situation we are in right now," Stoddard said.
The first two weeks of school following the holiday break have been marred by staffing shortages, transportation problems, and a lack of communication from the school system, according to parents who have been forced to keep their children home because of it, at a time when covid cases continue to surge and agencies work to respond.
On the first day back from the break on Jan. 5, MCPS confirmed 90 of its 1,228 bus routes were canceled after drivers called out. The higher-than-expected number of drivers calling out led to multiple routes being affected, the school system said.
In a letter to parents, the school system said the call-outs were due to the ongoing COVID pandemic and staffing issues.
On Tuesday an MCPS spokesperson said 50 of its routes were affected.
Montgomery County Public Schools was one of several school districts that struggled with staffing issues throughout 2021 and the system was working to hire new drivers as recently as December.