The Essex Westford School Board adopted a new version of its transportation policy last month in response to the turmoil surrounding the continued lack of bus drivers in recent years.

By recommendation of the board and community members, EWSD administrators will focus on getting service to the “most vulnerable” students – starting with the youngest grades – once the policy goes into effect July 1, according to chief operating officer Brian Donahue.

“It could mean that if we start the next school year at the same position we are right now, without sufficient drivers, we would need to take services away from older students so that younger students could be served,” Donahue said.

He noted there are three drivers working to obtain their CDL license and said the administration is now testing preliminary routes to expand service to village schools with as little as two drivers prior to July 1.

Donahue said the six-month cushion before the policy goes into effect will allow the administration to develop a plan that reflects the recommendations from the board without finding them out of compliance.

“We would have needed to take sort of drastic measures mid-year through,” he explained. “And it would seem that that would be really disruptive and chaotic for many of our families, so that was part of the reason why it was decided to have it effective July 1.”

The new policy doesn’t bring much change to the responsibilities and powers of the superintendent, who will still create routes and decide who gets busing. Rather, the policy places more specific requirements on the administration, Donahue said.

“We’ve done a better job at organizing the new revised procedure to really stipulate what is the board laying out … and what are some of the measurables,” he said. “There’s a much more improved delineation of the work and the expectation.”

One stipulation is the administration must share its new procedures for the current transportation situation by March 31 so board members have time to comment on and review them. Donahue said he will then continue to report to the board and give them time to for feedback and suggestions.

Though the situation regarding bus driver shortages still looks bleak statewide and throughout the nation, Donahue said the new policy will help inform administration’s decisions regarding who will get transportation in the face of future shortages.