After touring Evan G. Shortlidge Academy, a K-2 school in Wilmington that will open virtually on Sept. 8, Biden told a small group of teachers, staff, and leaders that “the best policies don’t come from politicians — they come from educators like you.”
She praised the school’s efforts to continue educating students, saying that while teachers and parents are “losing sleep” over the new school year, staff at the elementary school are meeting the challenge, distributing meals and technology.
“Americans of all walks of life are putting their shoulders back, and they’re fighting for each other. We haven’t given up,” Biden said while standing in front of a playground cordoned off with yellow caution tape. “We just need leadership worthy of our nation, and worthy of all of you.”
The event marked the first stop on a 10-city “Back to School” tour for Biden, a longtime educator who has said she plans to continue teaching if former Vice President Joe Biden is elected president. Her tour, which includes virtual and in-person visits, will eventually wind through Pennsylvania with a stop in Scranton, Joe Biden’s childhood hometown.
Her appearance came a day after Joe Biden made a campaign stop in Pittsburgh, and as the Democratic nominee works to keep the focus of the race on the pandemic and its devastating impacts on daily life. President Donald Trump and Republicans made clear during their party convention last week that they will seek to keep attention instead on the violence that has rippled through some protests across America.
At Stonelidge, Jill Biden said it was “just so nice to feel like I’m home again,” emphasizing her roots in public education. She noted that her husband has the support of the national teachers’ unions, and pledged that teachers would have a voice in his administration.
“That’s going to be the difference in this administration and a Biden administration,” Biden said. “A Biden administration is going to listen to educators.
“The first thing we’re going to do is get a new secretary of education who has been in the classroom” and “actually knows what he or she is talking about,” she added in a dig at Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.
A Hammonton, N.J., native who grew up in Willow Grove, Pa., Biden has made her background in education a focus — delivering her Democratic National Convention speech from her former classroom at Wilmington’s Brandywine High — as schools and families across the country grapple with reopening.
Joe Biden has criticized Trump’s insistence that schools fully reopen as “just plain dangerous,” calling for such decisions to be made by local authorities. Both Pennsylvania and New Jersey have taken that approach, providing guidance to local school districts but not mandating a course of action.
But those local decisions have frustrated many parents, as districts around the Philadelphia region have decided to start the year virtually — spurring mounting concerns about child care, the efficacy of online instruction, and worsening inequality. Biden has called for increased federal spending on schools and child-care programs.
His wife acknowledged some of the challenges Tuesday, telling educators at Shortlidge — which enrolls primarily Black and Latino students — that “you serve the students who are feeling the pandemic the most.”
“Going forward, we’re going to have to change the status quo,” Biden said after referring to students across the country who lack resources like broadband internet and mental health services. “This pandemic has really put a bright light on the systemic inequities in our education system.”
Before her remarks, Biden visited with Shortlidge teachers and staff to learn how the school is handling the pandemic. Dorrell Green, superintendent of the Red Clay School District, said that in order to bring students back to school with social distancing, class sizes would have to dramatically decrease.
Inside another classroom, Biden met second-grade teacher Chris Wiggins, who had written “Shortlidge welcomes Dr. Biden!” on his whiteboard. “Obviously, you’re the coolest teacher ever,” Biden said before Wiggins explained his plan to teach virtually from his classroom so he would have access to his materials.
Wiggins told Biden he “can’t wait” to start teaching.