The National Guard is easing school bus struggles, districts say. So are new Spanish-language driver tests

A National Guard member drives a school bus van in Chelsea, Mass.

A National Guard member drives a school bus van in Chelsea, Mass. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

On a recent weekday, Jaime Carillo and his son waited for the ride to school in their usual spot on the front porch of the family’s duplex. When classes first started, the two were spending a lot of time there; the van that takes his son to school was coming much later than its 7:28 a.m. scheduled arrival.

“During the first three weeks of school I had to start dropping him off myself because they would come here around 8 [a.m.],” explained Carillo. “[The school] said that because there weren’t enough drivers they had to pick kids up in two groups each morning.”

But ever since the National Guard came to help Chelsea Public Schools with transportation, things changed for the Carillo family. The van now comes on time. Carillo’s son is one of about 15 students in the district that’s getting a lift from one of the uniformed officers.

“I feel good about it and more secure,” said Carillo. “I’m happy they brought in the [National Guard] drivers.”

Carillo appreciates predictability, and said he likes seeing the Guard members around. They were in the city a lot during the pandemic, helping out with food distribution and vaccinations.

“I think it’s normal to see them,” he added. “More than anything, they’re welcome.”

Hearing that kind of response from a parent was a relief for district Superintendent Almi Abeyta. When she first agreed to bring the National Guard in to help with transportation, she worried how parents would feel about people in military uniforms picking up kids, especially in this city, where about 45% of the residents are foreign-born and some are undocumented.

“I always want to make sure our families feel safe and that our children feel safe,” said Abeyta. “I don’t want to raise any fear in anyone.”

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El Planeta’s Tibisay Zea contributed to this report.