Jill Biden revealed to students in Pennsylvania that she had her phone taken away as first lady as she wrapped up her two-state tour of schools that have reopened during the coronavirus pandemic.
One student told the first lady her phone was a distraction so she had to hide it away to keep on track with her studies.
‘As first lady they took my phone away so I don’t have a phone either. So I know how you feel,’ Biden told her.
It’s normal for presidents and first ladies to lose their personal phones when they enter the White House, which is done for security reasons. The phones they use are supposed to have special security modifications to keep them from being hacked or them being spied upon.
Most all of them complain about the loss of their personal devices though. Barack Obama received a special-calibrated blackberry so he could stay connected while president. And Donald Trump reportedly defied security warnings and kept using his personal cell phone.
Biden met with students who have returned to the classroom and listened to how teachers safely returned to in-person instruction during a visit to schools in Connecticut and Pennsylvania on Wednesday.
Her trip, made with newly-confirmed Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, was made to highlight how schools have safely transitioned from virtual learning. It comes as President Joe Biden is pushing for schools to resume five-day in-person classes by May – a goal the administration is struggling to meet.
‘I feel like people feel that there’s light at the end of the tunnel; there is hope,’ the first lady said at Fort LeBoeuf Middle School in Waterford, Pennsylvania.
Jill Biden visits a robotics lab as she tours Fort LeBoeuf Middle School in Waterford, Pennsylvania
The first lady saw how the robots could throw a ball through a hoop
Jill Biden waves to students as she enters their classroom during her Pennsylvania stop
The first lady also held a roundtable discussion with teachers as part of her trip
Jill Biden encouraged the students to remember and reflect on the unique time they are living in. ‘What I try to tell my students is to reflect on this time and journal it somehow. We have to remember what this time was like,’ she said
Jill Biden and Education Secretary Miguel Cardon arrive at Erie International Airport, Pennsylvania
The first lady peppered her remarks with a message of hope for exhausted educators and parents.
‘If we come together in unity, I think that’s the direction we’re headed. And that’s what I see as an educator myself, that, you know, better things are going to happen because we’ve gone through this horrific experience. We’re going to come out better for it, really,’ she said during a roundtable discussion with parents.
Biden is an educator, teaching her community college class virtually from the White House as many schools remained shuttered due to the coronavirus pandemic.
‘I think the teachers are doing such a great job,’ she said during her stop at Benjamin Franklin Elementary School in Meriden, Connecticut. ‘Meeting the kids where they are, whether that’s in school, whether it’s at home. I mean really, I think what the teachers have done this year to help our America’s children has been incredible.’
Representatives from powerful teachers’ unions joined the first lady and education secretary in their school stops. Becky Pringle, the president of the National Education Association, the largest teaching union in the country, was with them in Pennsylvania.
And Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, was at the Connecticut school. She said teachers need flexibility to teach both in the classroom and virtually. Teachers’ unions have pushed to have teachers vaccinated before the returning to the classrooms.
The president on Tuesday pushed for teachers to be prioritized when it comes to getting the COVID vaccine but said it wasn’t necessary for schools to reopen – an area of tension between him and the unions, which backed his candidacy for president.
Miguel said vaccinating teachers is his ‘top priority’ as head of the Department of Education.
‘We must continue to reopen America’s schools for in person learning as quickly and as safely as possible. The president recognizes this which is why he took bold action yesterday to get teachers and school staff vaccinated quickly.
He added: ‘As secretary of education that is my top priority.’ The teachers listening applauded his words.
But the White House said again that vaccination is not a requirement for schools to reopen.
‘It is not a requirement for teachers to be vaccinated,’ White House press secretary Jen Psaki said at her briefing Wednesday. ‘The president has also been clear he believes they should be prioritized as many other frontline workers are, because, because they are playing a vital role of role as essential workers, teaching our kids.’
Psaki rejected a question on whether the push came at the behest of teachers’ unions.
Jill Biden said she is teaching virtually and her students want to get back in class.
‘I am teaching virtually and, last week, I said to my students, ‘How are you doing?’ and they said, ‘Dr B, We’re doing okay. We’re doing okay. But we can’t wait to be back in the class.’ And, you know, I think that’s how we all feel. But we just know that we have to get back safely,’ she said.
‘I think once we get our teachers vaccinated and the American Rescue plan passed, schools like this will have the money to be back safely,’ she said to applause. ‘We’re going to do this together.’
At her stop in Pennsylvania, Jill Biden asked students what kind of challenges they faced trying to learn during a pandemic.
She also visited a robotics lab where she watched students teach robots to shoot balls through a hoop.
During her visit, Biden encouraged the students to remember and reflect on the unique time they are living in.
‘What I try to tell my students is to reflect on this time and journal it somehow. We have to remember what this time was like,’ she said.
During her Connecticut stop on Wednesday, the first lady met with a group of socially-distanced and masked kindergartners during her stop at Benjamin Franklin Elementary School in Meriden, Connecticut.
‘Hi Mrs. Biden,’ the children chorused to her upon her arrival.
‘Thank you. It’s so nice to be here,’ Biden said.
See-through plastic partitions separated groups the younger students .
‘I love that,’ Biden said after a teacher pointed out the partitions. The teacher also said her young charges had ‘no issues’ wearing face masks.
Jill Biden met with students who have returned to the classroom during a visit to Benjamin Franklin Elementary School in Connecticut school with Education Secretary Miguel Cardona
Jill Biden complimented a little girl who wore a teal gown under her T-shirt for the visit
The first lady met with a group of socially-distanced and masked kindergartners
Jill Biden waves to students in a classroom as she toured Benjamin Franklin Elementary
Jill Biden and Education Secretary Miguel Cardona visited a sensory room that focused on social and emotional learning for students
The children wore blue t-shirts with the name of their school and the year of college graduation: 2037. Their teacher said they had been back in the classroom since August and she keeps extra face masks on hand for the kids to wear.
Biden and Cardona walked around the room, bending down to talk to students to see what they were working on. The first lady complimented a little girl who wore a teal gown under her T-shirt for the occasion.
Cardona fist-bumped the students and talked to them about ninja turtles. He served as a fourth-grade teacher, principal and an assistant superintendent for Meriden Public Schools before joining the Biden administration.
Biden and Cardona also visited a sensory room that focused on social and emotional learning for students.
‘Being at home and being on the computer doesn’t access this,’ Cardona said about the room, which contained play mats, yoga balls, monkey bars and a large chart with a set of color-coded moods.
‘Have you seen the anxiety in children increasing’ because of the pandemic, Biden asked.
‘I think because of the pandemic children have felt unsafe at time, ensuring that they feel safe, having their routine, having access to their education, and having outlets has helped,’ a teacher responded.
Next, the duo will visit Fort LeBoeuf Middle School in Waterford, Pennsylvania.
President Biden sent his wife on the road and is using his White House bully pulpit as the administration struggles to meet its self-imposed 100 day deadline on schools reopening.
The first lady departed from Joint Base Andrews on Wednesday morning to spend the day in Connecticut and Pennsylvania to tout her husband’s plan to reopen schools.
Biden pledged to have in-person classes resume by May and the White House has said that confirmation of an Education secretary and the passage of the $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill would help make that happen.
But with Cardona confirmed as head of the Education Department and Congress on the cusp of approving the COVID relief legislation, it’s becoming clear more is needed to be done.
In the United States, 31 per cent of K-12 students attend ‘virtual-only’ schools, while 43 per cent attend in-person classes and 26 per cent attend ‘hybrid’ schools that offer a mix of the two, according to the website Burbio that tracks such information.
First lady Jill Biden said that her husband’s COVID relief bill would give schools the money to help them reopen safely
President Biden is sending first lady Jill Biden on the road to push his school opening plan – above the first lady boards her plane for the trip to Connecticut and Pennsylvania
President Joe Biden announced a program Tuesday to get educators at least one coronavirus vaccine shot by the end of March
A New York City classroom – schools are controlled on a local level and the federal government cannot order them to reopen
Control of schools is handled at the local level and each district faces its own challenges on resuming full, in-person instruction. Some buildings don’t have room for social distancing, others don’t have funds for the extra cleaning or additional staff and some face opposition from teachers who don’t want to go back to the classroom with the COVID vaccine.
Biden’s COVID relief plan includes $130 billion for the nation’s schools to help them with costs associated with reopening.
The federal government cannot mandate schools to open but can pressure them.
Meanwhile, Biden announced Tuesday that he would use his federal powers to prioritize educators and child care workers for vaccine shots this month.
‘My challenge to all states, territories and the district of Columbia is this. We want every educator, school staff member, child care worker to receive at least one shot by the end of the month of March,’ Biden said.
‘To help make this happen, starting next week and for a month, month of March, we’ll be using our federal pharmacy program to prioritize the vaccination of pre-K through 12 educators, staff and child care workers. The program is one that the administration established to work with pharmacies nationwide to try to boost vaccine distribution.
‘I want to be very clear. Not every educator will be able to get their appointment in the first week. But our goal is to do everything we can to help every educator receive a shot this month, the month of March,’ he said.
Cardona called Biden’s move an ‘important step’ but also noted, in an op-ed in USA Today, ‘there’s much more work we must also do to safely reopen schools in every community in the country.’
He wrote that the Department of Education will host a national summit on safe school reopening this month to discuss schools reopening.
Miguel Cardona is sworn in as Secretary of Education by United States Vice President Kamala Harris as Cardona’s wife Marissa holds the Bible
President Biden is even considering creating a ‘school reopening’ czar, Politico reported.
The administration has taken several steps to help schools. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released highly-anticipated guidelines last month on schools reopening.
But it also has muddled its messaging goals in trying to get kids back in the classroom. Officials, including the president, have said teacher vaccines aren’t necessary but should be a ‘priority’ as teacher unions demand shots in the arm for educators.
Biden said Tuesday schools can reopen without teachers getting vaccines but then pushed for them to receive them.