Montgomery County school officials call on National Guard amid bus driver shortage

Montgomery County officials say they have requested assistance from the National Guard to fill the void of bus drivers who are out due to the omicron variant.

Dr. Earl Stoddard, the Assistant Chief Administrative Officer of Montgomery Count, says Montgomery County Public Schools put in the request last week and then the county contacted the Maryland Department of Emergency Management and Homeland Security.

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"The state took that resources request and what they did is they actually funneled it both through the Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) as well as the national guard and other resources they thought may be able to support the mission," Dr. Stoddard said. "Yesterday they came back and said well we really don't have a state resource that's appropriate for this."

Dr. Stoddard told FOX 5 most of those within the National Guard who are qualified to drive buses are either being used for other tasks throughout the state to help with the omicron surge or simply not available.

Dr. Stoddard does say emergency management is trying to find help within the National Guard, in addition, he said the state also sent out what's called a "MEMAC" request.

"Which is essentially a distribution that goes out to all counties throughout the state of Maryland that says Montgomery County or whoever is making the request has this particular need these are the parameters can anybody else help them?"

He says he expects the next few weeks will be tough on everyone as they continue to look for drivers.

"We don't have a break glass in case of emergency bus driver pool that's sitting somewhere being unused right now," Stoddard said. "I think there's been between 75 and I think 90 routes that have been affected that's a significant number of routes and for many parents it's an inconvenience, for many other parents it's a significant burden that is placed on some of our most hard-hit communities."

Andrew Ginsburg, a Montgomery County parent, told FOX 5 he doesn't fault MCPS for drivers being out sick, but he does feel they should've planned for staffing shortages just in case.

"I applaud them for being creative and looking to solve this problem but to me I see lots of Band-Aids on how to keep kids in school instead of just acknowledging right now for safety reasons and for drive reasons it's time temporarily to go virtual."

The Parents' Coalition of Montgomery County sent FOX 5 this statement about the National Guard request:

"The Parents' Coalition of Montgomery County, MD has been watching the breakdown of our public schools system, including the lack of school bus drivers, and we are aware of the request from County Executive Marc Elrich for support from the National Guard to get MCPS students to school. We would like to see the details in this proposal including what vetting process will be used for National Guard bus drivers.

However the larger issue is that our schools are in a state of collapse, and yet the only emergency action being suggested is to address the shortage of school bus drivers. What good does it do to get a child to school if there isn't a teacher in the classroom? The COVID-19 case report for MCPS today is staggering, showing 2,530 new cases in schools.

The COVID-19 pandemic is forcing public schools to rethink how they operate. Montgomery County's Department of Transportation must be included in the discussion of how to best transport students to schools. Many County bus routes, but not all, go by our public schools. In these extreme times we would encourage the elected Board of Education to work with the county executive and the county transportation system to come up with alternatives for transporting students to school using our existing public transportation system."

MCPS officials did confirm the request for National Guard help.

In a statement they said, "It is only being responsible to explore every possibility, in this case keeping as many buses running as possible to serve students and families."