As part of Joe Biden’s presidential campaign for presidency, Jill Biden made a stop in Jacksonville on Tuesday to talk about schools — virtually, that is.
“The virtual bus has stopped in Duval County,” School Board member Darryl Willie said as he introduced the former Second Lady on a Zoom panel. “I can’t wait to have a teacher as our First Lady.”
More: Find all your Jacksonville related education news
Biden hosted an online roundtable focused on school reopenings in Jacksonville. The virtual discussion was part of her national Back-to-School Tour, a news release said. Biden has made similar virtual stops in Tampa, Wisconsin and North Carolina.
“Joe knows that the best policies don’t come from politics, they come from educators,” Biden said. “Parents and students like you, and Joe’s going to listen. That’s why I’m on this tour. To listen to you. To understand what each community needs.”
The 45-minute panel was moderated by School Board member Willie and featured a mix of parents, educators and students. Those who RSVP’d ahead of time were able to interact and ask questions through the software’s chat function. Participants spanned from across Jacksonville and beyond, including Homestead, Doral and Palm Beach.
The panel was comprised of military parent Leah Love, parent and former City Council candidate Sunny Gettinger, Southside Middle School algebra teacher and department chair Nadine Ebri and Jean Ribault High School senior class president Winston Seabrooks.
The group discussed challenges they’ve faced this school year with distance and hybrid learning amid the coronavirus pandemic.
“It’s been a unique set of circumstances,” Love told Biden. “It just felt like such a heavy thing to decide as far as what to do in the fall. It felt like rolling the dice.”
Duval County Public Schools is currently in its third week of school, offering virtual and hybrid options. On Sept. 14, the students attending in-person are expected to transition from a hybrid in-person schedule to five-days-per-week.
“This time in the pandemic has been so tough on our kids,” Biden said. “I know kids want structure. They’re missing everything that is familiar to them. Everything they look forward to each and every day. Our kids are resilient and they’re going to come through this.”
Biden touched on parts of her husband’s school reopening plans, which are outlined on the candidate’s website. The plans include getting COVID-19 under control, emergency funding for schools and an initiative to improve remote learning.
“We need someone who will offer a plan and someone who will put money into our schools and our teachers,” Biden said, adding that Joe Biden plans to “double the amount” of money spent on school counselors.
Biden, a longtime educator who works as a community college professor, has largely focused her campaigning on education. During her keynote address at the Democratic National Convention, Biden spoke from her old classroom at Brandywine High School, where she taught English between 1991 and 1993.
“Educators across the state, advocates and parents are making sure students don’t fall behind,” she said. “That’s what we do — we find ways to make something out of nothing.”
Seabrooks, the only student on the panel, talked about his “new normal” at Ribault High School.
“It’s something we wish was not the new normal, but it’s what we’re dealing with it. My school, the administration team, teachers, faculty, staff and students are banding together to make sure we don’t have an outbreak,” he said. “We’re looking at 2021 — are we going to be able to have a prom, a baccalaureate, a graduation in the auditorium? We may not have the senior year we expected.”
Still, the senior said those events were minor compared to thinking about taking COVID-19 home to a family member.
“That is a crazy thing to have to deal with,” he said.
Biden closed by reminding people to wear masks and wash their hands to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, reminding people to check their voter status and to talk to family members about who they’re voting for and why.
And then with encouragement from Willie, Biden signed off with her own attempt at Jacksonville’s beloved “DUUUVAAL” war cry.
“I’ll practice,” Biden said after giving it her best shot. “That will be my homework.”
Emily Bloch is an education reporter for The Florida Times-Union. Follow her on Twitter or email her.
This article originally appeared on Florida Times-Union: In virtual stop, Jill Biden talks school reopenings with Duval educators, students