By Amanda Menas
Dr. Jill Biden joined NEA President Lily Eskelsen García on Thursday, August 6 for a panel to discuss concerns with educators and parents about reopening schools safely and equitably as the novel coronavirus pandemic continues to take hold of classrooms and school communities around the country.
Since the beginning of the year, too many politicians and others like Betsy DeVos have not taken the virus seriously. Now those same politicians are now demanding that all students and all educators rush back to in-person instruction, ignoring the best health guidance of medical professionals and failing to listen to the voices of educators and parents.
However, educators and activists have strong advocates in Joe and Jill Biden, who have been on the forefront of the discussion calling for an intentional, equitable plan for reopening schools—not the reckless approach the current administration is taking.
As an educator and NEA member herself, Dr. Biden knows that no one wants to be back in the classroom more than educators. She also knows how crucial it is that we listen to health experts to reopen safely and ensure students can thrive, whatever their color, ZIP code or background.
Reopening school is not just about getting back to things as they were before. Dr. Biden agrees with educators that we have to build back even better schools. We need to take on the inequities that are exacerbated by this pandemic—and existed long before. We need a plan not just to keep students and educators safe, but to help our schools and communities thrive.
“We care about our kids’ academic skills, you bet we do. We care about their social emotional well-being, of course, we do. And we care about their health and safety and we don’t want them to die. We don’t want a trade-off,” said García in introducing the panel, which included Dr. Rebecca Katz, professor and director of the Center for Global Health Science and Security at Georgetown University Medical Center, and Camara Scott, a pediatric primary care nurse from Westerville, Ohio.
Here are five things Dr. Jill Biden told educators:
Schools and Educators need more funding before returning to the classroom
“Schools are going to need funds to help them keep staff and students safe with protective gear. They are going to need help making sure classrooms can socially distance. And they are going to need to make sure that students have access to broadband. It’s crucial,” said Dr. Biden, who also highlighted the need for increased access to broadband and technology for students and educators learning virtually. Panelist Scott pointed to the need to address the national school nurse shortage; at García’s own middle school, the secretary was forced to take on the additional role of school nurse as the pandemic began.
Keep politics out of our schools
Scott highlighted the fact that the safety of our schools cannot be political, “The safety and education of our children should never be about politics. It should always be about what is best for them. Because if we don’t do this right and we don’t open up the schools right and one child dies, it’s not worth it, period.” Dr. Biden agreed, “It should not be political. However, right now it’s become political. But with Joe Biden, with a President like my husband Joe, it’s all about leadership.” She continued to say that it is important to have a strategy that comes directly from educators and medical professionals first.
Provide Mental Health Resources to students and educators
“Both students and educators are going to need more mental health support to deal with the trauma of this pandemic,” said Dr. Biden. Biden’s plan to support students and educators promises to double the number of psychologists and counselors in schools to help students deal with the rising mental health crisis spurred by the pandemic.
Advocate for Racial Justice
“This crisis has shined a bright light on the systemic racial and socioeconomic inequities of our education system. We need to identify best practices to address those equity gaps and provide funding to implement these best practices so our students have the support they need to succeed,” said Dr. Biden. Under a Biden administration, funding for Title I schools will triple to increase opportunities for communities of color.
Listen to educators
Having Dr. Biden as First Lady in the White House means that educators always have a partner in the highest office. She promises that Biden will listen to educators on how to reopen schools safely, saying, “He’ll have to because he’ll be sharing the White House with one.” She continued, “The best policies don’t come from politics, they come from educators.”
To learn more about the Biden campaign, visit StrongPublicSchools.org.