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Jill Biden Highlights Parents’ Frustrations and Fears About Schools During Pandemic

By Andrew Ujifusa — August 18, 2020 3 min read
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Jill Biden capped off the Democratic National Convention’s events Tuesday on the night her husband was nominated for president by focusing heavily on her background as an educator and the struggles schools are facing during the coronavirus pandemic.

The virtual events Tuesday highlighted her work as a professor at Northern Virginia Community College during the vice presidency her husband, Joe Biden, and her time as a high school teacher.

She painted a difficult, emotional picture of families’ and educators’ struggles during the spread of the virus, and avoided wonky details about what schools need to address the pandemic; those policy nuts and bolts are reserved for the Democratic Party’s official 2020 platform.

Before her remarks, the convention’s “Roll Call Across America” (where state delegates officially cast their votes for the party’s presidential nominee) also featured several speakers who focused on education themes like remote learning, funding, and gun violence at schools.

The Democratic National Convention left no room for doubt about the focus of Jill Biden’s remarks: It labeled the video segment about her life as “Teacher.” And in her video segment, Biden spoke from Brandywine High School in Wilmington, Del., where she used to teach.

“You can hear the anxiety that echoes down empty hallways. There’s no scent of new notebooks or freshly waxed floors,” she said. “The rooms are dark as the bright young faces that should fill them are now confined to boxes on a computer screen.”

She went on to put those struggles in a broader context: “I hear it from so many of you: the frustration of parents juggling work while they support their children’s learning--or are afraid that their kids might get sick from school. The concern of every person working without enough protection. The despair in the lines that stretch out before food banks.” But she said that if her husband is elected president, “these classrooms will ring out with laughter and possibility once again.”

Joe Biden appeared at the end of her video segment to underscore his wife’s role in schools: “Just think of your favorite educator who gave you the confidence to believe in yourself.”

‘Public Educators Are Doing Everything They Can’

The “Roll Call” event reinforced the close ties between the teachers’ unions and the national Democratic Party in this presidential election, with both a state union president and vice president getting speaking slots.

  • “I know that public educators are doing everything they can to make sure our students have quality learning experiences this fall,” said Marisol Garcia, a middle school teacher in Arizona and the vice president of the Arizona Educators Association, the state affiliate of the National Education Association. “As a mother of a high school freshman, I know that it’s far from perfect. As an NEA union organizer, I’ll fight to make sure that it’s scientists, parents, and educators that decide when it’s safe to go back to school, not politicians.”

    Garcia has been active in the state’s Red for Ed movement, which used teacher walkouts and protests to push for higher teacher pay and better working conditions for educators.

  • Speaking for Florida, Fred Guttenberg said that after his daughter Jamie was killed at a school shooting in Parkland, Fla., in 2018, Biden called and revealed his “decency and civility,” but also his “toughness.” (In 2018, Guttenberg confronted Brett Kavanaugh during Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation hearing and unsuccessfully sought to speak to him about gun violence.)

    “Joe Biden and Kamala Harris will take on the NRA again and win. Let’s win back our freedom to live without fear,” Guttenberg told the convention.

  • Rachel Prevost, a recent college graduate speaking for Montana, highlighted many people’s lack of access to reliable internet. “Some days, I can’t even get a video to load or an email attachment to send. Without reliable internet, there’s no remote learning,” Prevost said.
  • And representing West Virginia, Fred Albert, the president of the American Federation of Teachers’ affiliate in that state—where teachers went on strike in 2018—noted how teachers there fought for “sufficient funding for classroom equipment” and “fair wages for teachers and school service personnel.”

“Elections matter, but so does activism,” Albert said.

Image via Democratic National Convention

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