ATTENDANCE IS TAKEN: As millions of parents and caregivers are eager to see their children return to classrooms after months of remote learning, First Lady Jill Biden and Education Secretary Miguel Cardona planned to tour two recently reopened schools in Meridien, Conn., and in Watertown, Pa.
Cardona, who was sworn in Tuesday, is familiar with Meridien, having grown up and worked as a teacher and an administrator there. He also served as the state’s education commissioner. Biden, a lifelong educator, is at also ease in the classroom. So much so that she delivered her virtual speech for last summer’s Democratic National Convention from a Brandywine High School classroom where she once taught.
Biden and Cardona started their first visit early this afternoon at the Benjamin Franklin Elementary School. Dozens of people reportedly lined the sidewalk awaiting their arrival Wednesday morning. The school has offered in-person learning since before Labor Day without having to close any schools. Biden wore an off-white dress and a pale mauve blazer with a coordinating pale mauve face mask, and Cardona dressed for the occasion in a dark suit, white button-down shirt and red tie. Citing how President Biden is trying to get teachers and school staff vaccinated, Cardona spoke of the need to reopen schools safely.
Briefly addressing a crowd that included Sen. Chris Dodd and American Federation of Teachers’ president Randi Weingarten, Biden said she was proud to be an educator especially when visiting schools like the one she was in. “Teachers want to be back. We want to be back. I’m a teacher. I’m teaching virtually,” she said, adding how students recently told her how they can’t wait to be back in the classroom. “I think that’s how we all feel. We just know that we have to get back safely. Once we get the teachers vaccinated and the American Rescue Plan passed so that schools like this can have the money to be back safely…”
Wearing a mask, she continued, “The biggest thing is we’re going to do this together. This pandemic has been so hard on our parents, our teachers — all of our educators. But look at what educators have done. In a split second, they learned to teach virtually. They got food to the kids who needed it. They got the WiFi hotspots. The bus drivers drove them so the kids could use their laptops. The whole system has come together. I said if Joe became the president that one thing that we were going to do was to lift up the teachers, all the educators in this nation because they deserve it.”
An employee at the Ben Franklin Elementary School said she was unable to discuss the first lady’s visit. A query to officials at the Meridien Public Schools was unanswered Wednesday.
Supporting small businesses is an undercurrent of the administration as evidenced by how the first lady opted for an Inauguration Day ensemble from the little-known Markarian brand. In Meridien, Kuitima “Tina” Dalipovski, owner of the Downtown Coffee Shop rolled out the welcome mat before this morning’s official visit. She said, “I invited her on Fox 61 news for a coffee and a sandwich. The word was she was going to come by and grab a coffee and a sandwich. Is she? I couldn’t tell you. Whatever she wants, we can make.”
All in all though, she “loves” that Biden has made her way to town. “Meridien needs a little excitement and I’m happy that she came down,” Dalipovski said.
Biden and Cardona are expected to make the rounds at the Fort LeBoeuf Middle School later this afternoon.
Richard Emerick, superintendent of the Fort LeBoeuf School District, deferred comment to a member of Biden’s communications team, who did not respond to a request for comment.