First lady Jill Biden visited Marvin Pratt Elementary School in Milwaukee to tout the Biden administration’s emphasis on federal relief funds for schools and hear from parents and school officials about the transition into a new school year.
“Parents, I know this is so hard, but you’re doing your best, and I want you to know that you’re not alone,” she said Wednesday morning.
Students in Milwaukee Public Schools learned virtually for the majority of last school year, transitioning into in-person learning mostly in May.
Carol Johnson, great-grandmother to two Milwaukee Public Schools students, said her boys were thrilled to be back in school. With the delta variant driving high rates of COVID-19 across the state, though, she said she initially had her reservations.
“I was a little concerned about the safety with things inside of school, but I was able to see that they had the partitions, and all of that, and a lot of distancing,” she said. “I was very impressed by that.”
Other parents at the event talked about the challenges of balancing work with child care and their children’s educational needs.
Jessica Davis, an operating room nurse, said her family pushed back her husband’s plans to return to work after being a full-time stay-at-home dad because of the pandemic. Davis herself also switched to working 70 hours one week and taking the next week off so she could help more at home.
“Not that the children are a burden or the learning was a burden, but making sure they got everything they need was hugely stressful,” she said.
Davis said Milwaukee Public Schools’ decision to require face masks made her feel comfortable sending her kids back.
“I couldn’t send my kids to school without a mask requirement,” she said.
Brednia Johnson-Allen, another mom, said her mother quit her job to supervise Johnson-Allen’s son’s schooling so that Johnson-Allen and her son’s father could keep working.
“Without her, I wouldn’t have been able to do anything,” said Johnson-Allen. “I was still able to provide for my son, to still be able to work and help out.”
Biden praised the American Rescue Plan Act, a federal relief package passed in March, saying the funds it provided would help cover the supplies schools need to minimize disease spread and help students recover academically from a year and a half of disruptions to their education. American Rescue Plan Act funds are still in the process of being allocated and distributed to Wisconsin schools, but funds from earlier relief bills have helped cover the costs of masks, hand sanitizer, indoor air filters and curriculum materials.
Mary Wall, a Biden advisor, said the administration is hoping children under age 12 will have access to the COVID-19 vaccine before the end of the year.
Biden didn’t respond to reporters’ questions about whether she supported vaccine mandates for teachers or students. Milwaukee Public Schools approved a vaccine requirement for teachers and staff last week.
The Republican Party of Wisconsin used Biden’s visit to criticize the Biden administration’s first year in office in an emailed statement from executive director Mark Jefferson.
“The past seven months under the Biden administration have been a crash course in bad government as Wisconsin families witness skyrocketing prices, a disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan, and a small business-crushing workforce shortage,” said Jefferson. “Not even Dr. Jill Biden can cover for her husband’s failing grade.”
Biden said she’ll take parents’ concerns and personal stories back to the White House.
“I see how committed you all are, the mothers, the fathers, the great-grandmothers…to help our kids get through this difficult time,” she said. “I really appreciate your time here today to come here, to share your stories, and I’ll take them back.”