Jill Biden, candidate for first lady of the United States and long-time educator, delivered her Democratic National Convention speech from a classroom in a school where she used to teach. Her message about reopening schools during the pandemic was… vague. But not in the way politicians are always vague. Instead, her hope-filled message lacked specifics because there is no one way for schools to reopen safely. She and her husband have acknowledged this, though she made it clear on Tuesday that she wants schools to reopen just as much as you do.
“When I taught English here at Brandywine High School, I would spend my summer preparing for the school year about to start — filled with anticipation. But this quiet is heavy. You can hear the anxiety that echoes down empty hallways,” Jill Biden said. “There’s no scent of new notebooks or freshly waxed floors. The rooms are dark as the bright young faces that should fill them are now confined to boxes on a computer screen.”
Biden, who taught English at a community college while she was second lady, recognized that reopening schools is not a problem that can be solved on its own. Looking back at the tragedies and losses the Biden family has faced over the years, she said, “How do you make a broken family whole? The same way you make a nation whole. With love and understanding, and with small acts of kindness. With bravery. With unwavering faith.”
In the past month, both Joe and Jill Biden have given specifics about the campaign’s school reopening plans. Jill Biden has said that her husband’s campaign will look to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention before making any decisions about resuming in-person classes. President Donald Trump stands in stark contrast. “I disagree with @CDCgov on their very tough & expensive guidelines for opening schools,” Trump posted on Twitter in early July. “While they want them open, they are asking schools to do very impractical things. I will be meeting with them!!!”
Whereas Trump has threatened to cut funding from schools that don’t reopen, Biden’s campaign offers a more flexible approach. Biden put out a plan in mid-July that emphasizes the importance of local factors. It also states that schools in areas with high infection rates should not reopen too soon. “If we do this wrong, we will put lives at risk and set our economy and our country back,” according to the plan.
Biden’s school plan takes into account the difficulties of making nationwide guidelines for a country with such an uneven playing field. Opening schools in areas with high COVID-19 infection rates and large numbers of anti-maskers, such as Georgia, is worlds different than opening schools in areas with low rates and mask requirements, such as Maine. Not to mention COVID-19 precautions are expensive, and not all schools have the money needed to fund them.
Despite these challenges, Jill Biden holds faith that the hardships of the pandemic on families will not last forever. “Yes, so many classrooms are quiet right now. The playgrounds are still,” she said. “But if you listen closely, you can hear the sparks of change in the air. Across the country, educators, parents, first responders — Americans of all walks of life are putting their shoulders back, fighting for each other. We haven’t given up.”