JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Dr. Jill Biden virtually hosted a roundtable conversation on school reopenings in Jacksonville as part of her national “Back-to-School” tour.
Dr. Biden — a community college professor who said that if her husband, former Vice President Joe Biden, is elected president and she becomes first lady, she plans to continue her work as a teacher — took questions from a Jacksonville student, teachers and parents during the virtual event.
“You know the playgrounds in our communities are still, and some classrooms, are dark as the bright, young faces that should fill them are now confined to literally boxes on a computer screen, like this one,” Dr. Biden said. “And while other classrooms are open, they’re still full of unknowns.”
The roundtable was hosted by Duval County School Board member Darryl Willie. Dr. Biden spoke about schools reopening in Jacksonville with some returning to classrooms while others learn virtually and others still move forward with a hybrid option.
“And I know that right now there’s a lot of educators and students and parents who are losing sleep because they feel such anxiety and worry right now,” she said. “And yet, you know, schools are finding ways to meet this challenge.”
For Nadine Ebri, a Southside Middle School algebra teacher, there are health risks to consider. But another major issue is the difference between the haves and the have nots.
“This pandemic has magnified the opportunity gap that has been left under the rug for years. We avoided it, but it’s almost like a scab and the band aid’s been ripped off and we’re forced to face it,” Ebri said.
Speaking on behalf of students, Ribualt High senior class president Winston Seabrooks told Dr. Biden that unfortunately, this is their new normal.
“We’re coming back into something we wish we didn’t have to, especially with it being our senior year," Seabrooks said. "Are we going to be able to have a prom? Are we going to have baccalaureate? Are we going to have a graduation in an auditorium?”
Dr. Biden said her husband is the best candidate to meet the challenges facing educators.
“He’s ready to get to work making our schools safe and equitable for all children on day one,” Dr. Biden said. “He knows that schools are going to need funds to help keep staff and students safe with protective gear, and they’re going to need help making sure classrooms can, you know, physically distance and make sure that students have access to broadband and other technology.”
News4Jax’s Melanie Lawson speaks with Dr. Biden
News4Jax anchor Melanie Lawson got to talk exclusively with Dr. Biden, who has been in the political world for more than 40 years since she married former Vice President Biden in 1977. She’s a force of her own with two master’s degrees and a doctorate in education.
Dr. Biden talked about education and why it’s so important.
“Education is my passion. I’ve been a teacher for 36 years. I just got certification so that I can teach online education. Teaching is my passion. It’s been my life’s career. I’ve always worked,” Dr Biden said.
Dr. Biden is the only second lady in U.S. history who has held a paying job while her spouse served in the White House. She said that if her husband wins, she’s going to keep teaching, hopefully, in an environment that’s re-imagined and better post-COVID-19.
“We need to put broadband across the United States. We need all of our students to have access to the Internet. We need them to have laptops. We need better food security," Dr. Biden said. “So many kids are food insecure. This is the United States of America. It’s hard to imagine how many kids, if they don’t go to school and get a breakfast and a lunch, they don’t get a meal at home.”
She believes her husband’s plan for universal pre-kindergarten for 3-year-olds and free community college will help level the playing field. Right now, her focus is getting that message out during a pandemic.
“Being on Zoom all day long, we start at 9 in the morning until 10 at night because we have to hit the West Coast, as well as the East Coast, so that’s been a little challenging," Dr. Biden said. “But we’re reaching thousands and thousands of people, so that’s a positive.”