What Biden's Promise to 'Teach Our Children in Safe Schools' Could Mean for Students
President Joe Biden was sworn into office on January 20 and is already hitting the ground running when it comes to climate change, LGBTQ equality, and the pandemic response. But during his inaugural address, Biden also made a promise to parents.
"'My whole soul is in it,'" Biden said, quoting Abraham Lincoln. "Today, on this January day, my whole soul is in this: bringing America together, uniting our people, uniting our nation. And I ask every American to join me in this cause ... We can teach our children in safe schools. We can overcome the deadly virus ... We can deliver racial justice and we can make America once again the leading force for good in the world."
Hope and unity were at the forefront of Biden's address to America but, as a parent, I was particularly interested in what the new president's plan for a safer space for students entailed and how, exactly, our kids could be impacted immediately and over the next four years.
First Lady Jill Biden, Ed.D., who will continue teaching while in the White House, has said, "Teaching isn't just what I do, it's who I am." And with experience as an educator for more than three decades, she will also likely have a positive impact on education policies in the U.S.
Here are three big things parents can probably expect from Biden's presidential term when it comes to education and safety.
A National Pandemic Response
President Biden has vowed to get the coronavirus pandemic under control, and that includes safely reopening schools so all students can return to classrooms once again. His goal? For most K-8 schools to open for in-person education within 100 days of taking office.
With a focus on mask mandates, equity, fixing vaccine distribution issues and prioritizing the vaccinations of teachers and school staff, and ramping up testing nationwide, Biden's new pandemic strategy also focuses on regularly testing teachers and students—the president is also said to be promoting COVID-19 screening of asymptomatic individuals to safely open schools back up—as well as providing funding for better air ventilation in classrooms and much-needed personal protective equipment (PPE).
On top of that, Biden dedicated his first full day in office to make in-person education a priority. With the "Supporting the Reopening and Continuing Operation of Schools and Early Childhood Education Providers" executive order, the Departments of Education and Health and Human Services will now provide guidance on reopening schools and the Federal Communications Commission will improve internet issues "for students lacking reliable home broadband, so that they can continue to learn if their schools are operating remotely."
Racial Equality in Schools
"Our history has been a constant struggle between the American ideal that we all are created equal, and the harsh, ugly reality that racism, nativism, fear, demonization have long torn us apart," said Biden in his inauguration speech.
There's no doubt that Black, Hispanic, and low-income students have been hit harder by the pandemic, but these school equity issues existed long before COVID-19 interrupted our lives. With students of color facing more disadvantages and even more discipline than their white peers, our children's education system—and how they are actually taught Black history—has been in need of an overhaul for some time.
Fortunately, the new administration has eyes on a brighter future for all of our kids. Even Biden's website promises to "ensure that no child's future is determined by their zip code, parents' income, race, or disability."
And while former President Donald Trump was working to establish the 1776 Commission to promote what he called a "patriotic education" that actually opposed schools teaching an accurate history of slavery in America, Biden issued an executive order to squash the plans within hours of being sworn in as president.
As 22-year-old Amanda Gorman, the first-ever National Youth Poet Laureate, said in her inaugural poem, "We will rebuild, reconcile, and recover, and every known nook of our nation and every corner called our country, our people diverse and beautiful will emerge, battered and beautiful. When day comes we step out of the shade, aflame and unafraid. The new dawn blooms as we free it. For there is always light, if only we're brave enough to see it. If only we're brave enough to be it"
A Plan to End Gun Violence
In pre-pandemic days when kids were regularly in school, gun safety was constantly top of mind—and the issue was brought to light once again following the attack on the U.S. Capitol when students quickly related to congressmen and women having to react to active shooters.
"Parents shouldn't have to worry about whether their kids will come home from school, and students shouldn't have to sacrifice themselves for their friends days before graduation," reads Biden's website. "We cannot let gun violence become an acceptable part of American life."
"Schools should be a place where kids are at ease and they can flourish and they can feel safe," then Vice President Biden said in a Parents town hall on gun safety in 2013. That's something all parents can agree on—so now only time will tell how the Biden-Harris administration works to make that happen.