First Lady Jill Biden at Marvin E. Pratt Elementary School in Milwaukee | Screenshot WisconsinEye
On Wednesday First Lady Jill Biden traveled to Milwaukee for the first time since Inauguration Day, to visit Marvin E. Pratt Elementary School and talk about keeping students safe as they return to in-person learning.
Pratt, a Milwaukee Public School that receives federal Title I funding because of its high number of children in poverty, was recognized in 2020 by the state Department of Public Instruction as a “high progress and beating-the-odds school.”
During a socially distanced conversation with ten people in the school library, where everyone wore masks, Biden heard from school principal Tianna Evans as well as teachers and parents at Pratt about their experience during the pandemic, supervising their children’s online learning and taking advantage of school lunch and other support programs.
The school principal led the conversation on the school’s “journey to a safe reopening,” asking teachers and parents to share their experiences.
Parents expressed appreciation for their children’s teachers, even as they talked about how stressful it was to manage at-home learning during the pandemic. “You’re unified, that’s the important thing,” said Biden. She plugged the American Rescue Plan Act which has provided billions of dollars in aid to schools across the country to help them recover from the pandemic, and asked if those funds had been helpful in Milwaukee.
In Wisconsin, Republican legislative leaders justified making drastic cuts to school funding in the current state budget — agreeing to less than one-tenth of the funding Democratic Gov. Tony Evers proposed — by pointing to federal pandemic-relief funds and suggesting that schools should use those funds for general operating expenses. The state has also experienced roiling controversy over school mask requirements, with Republicans and some parents insisting that schools should be forced to provide in-person learning and that masks should not be required, even as the highly contagious delta variant of the virus surges and cases among children climb.
To one Pratt parent, who said she hoped her young child could be vaccinated soon, Biden said, “Pretty soon we’re hoping to get a vaccine for kids under 12.”
Another parent noted “There hasn’t been a debate about the masking situation in this district. I couldn’t send my kid to school without a mask.”
Biden, who has been a teacher herself for more than 30 years, praised the efforts of teachers and school staff to help families weather the pandemic.
“When families needed help the most, educators answered the call,” she said. She praised Evers (whom she accidentally called “Gov. Evans,” and then corrected herself) for “providing strong leadership to reopen our schools.”
She described teaching as a “24/7 job” and promised to take parents’ and teachers’ concerns back to her husband, President Joe Biden. “Your children matter to me. And they matter to the president,” she said.
“We owe them a promise that we will do all that we can to keep their schools open and as safe as possible,” Biden added. “And we owe them unity so we can fight the virus and not each other.”
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