Jill Biden makes Michigan stop on Back to School tour
Former educator Jill Biden and U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin, D-Holly, hosted a virtual listening session on Thursday to hear the concerns of Michigan families with students returning to school amid the COVID-19 crisis.
Two Oakland County parents and a Lake Orion Community Schools teacher spoke on how they're navigating educating their children during a pandemic as Biden, the wife of Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, and Slotkin, a first-term representative who is seeking re-election, addressed the importance of safe learning environments.
"And this year for educators and parents and students, those feelings of excitement have turned into anxiety," Biden said. "The playgrounds are still and some classrooms are dark as the bright young faces that should fill them now are confined to boxes on a computer screen. And while other classrooms are open, they are full of unknowns."
During the Michigan stop on her virtual Back to School tour, Biden said the state's schools will need funds for protective gear, students doing remote learning will need access to broadband and other technology, and mental health support should be provided for teachers and students.
"This is my 16th year teaching ... and I feel like I can confidently speak for educators everywhere that this has been the most difficult back to school that we've ever experienced but teachers are handling it with such grace," said Karyn Faber, a developmental kindergarten teacher in Lake Orion.
Tuesday marked the first day of in-person classes in six months for the bulk of the state's nearly 540 traditional school districts and 293 charter schools.
Birmingham mother Denise Asbell's eighth-grade daughter started the school semester remotely because she has severe asthma that put her in the ICU for a week in February.
"It's tough especially when sending my child who is compromised with her health back to school put me at the mercy of the staff at the school, the resources at the school, the execution at the school of making sure that it's a healthy and safe environment for her," Asbell said. "(It's tough) especially when there's not federal leadership that makes sure that everyone is aligned and understand the goals and the need for taking care of those kids."
While Biden said that education should not be a political issue, one mother in Birmingham said the debate over face-to-face classes versus online learning has caused a split in her community.
"It's just very hard because it causes extreme divisiveness in our neighborhood, in our community," said Lori Goldman, whose 12-year-old triplets are in eighth grade. "And I don't fault any parents. We've had parents taking their kids out of the public school system, and putting them into private and parochial schools, so that they could go to school in person.
"We've had other parents that are on the bandwagon about no school in person and are very adamant and kind of militant about it," she said. "We need to be able to get along."
Asbell and Goldman were both featured in social media ads for the Biden campaign that were released last week. In the ads, both women discussed their support for Biden's campaign and how the pandemic has affected their families.
"The issue of our kids going back to schools is one of the most important because it's about the physical and mental health of our children. And what makes it so complicated is there is no perfect answer," Slotkin said.