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Joe Biden’s wife Jill takes White House bully pulpit on road to push for schools reopening

Jill Biden met with students who have returned to the classroom during a visit to a Connecticut school on Wednesday as she pushes her husband’s plan to get schools reopen.

‘I think the teachers are doing such a great job,’ she said in brief remarks. ‘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.’

Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, was at the school and 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.

‘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.  

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. It’s the hometown of newly-confirmed Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, who traveled with her.

‘Hi Mrs. Biden,’ the children chorused to her upon her arrival.

‘Thank you. It’s so nice to be here,’ Biden said.

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

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

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 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

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.

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 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

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

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

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.


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