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First lady wades into school reopening debate with trip to two schools



(WASHINGTON) — First lady Jill Biden is about to wade into the debate over reopening schools with a visit to two schools Wednesday in Connecticut and Pennsylvania alongside the newly confirmed Education Secretary Miguel Cardona.

The trip is meant to give Biden, a community college teacher, and Cardona an opportunity to see how schools nationwide are taking different approaches to reopening, as teachers, parents and school district officials grapple with how to get kids in classrooms safely.

The first lady and the secretary will be stopping by two schools that have managed to reopen with hopes of “having a conversation … about what has been effective, what has worked, what are the lessons learned, what do they need more assistance with?” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday.

But Biden, who herself is teaching virtually at Northern Virginia Community College this semester, will nonetheless get a reality check on the difficulties facing schools as the administration struggles to achieve their goal to reopen the majority of schools in the president’s first 100 days in office.

It hasn’t always been a smooth ride for the two schools Biden and Cardona are visiting.

When the Meriden Public School District in Connecticut reopened last Fall, the local teacher’s union voiced concerns about safety protocols, worried about how teachers would enforce them, according to the Meriden Record-Journal.

“All the teachers want to return to normalcy, but trying to get children to wear masks all day is not a plan,” said Meriden Federation of Teachers President Lauren Mancini Averitt at the time.

Since Last October, despite hiring additional teachers, social distancing and masking, the Benjamin Franklin Elementary School has reported a range of one to five positive COVID-19 cases on 11 separate weeks, according to Connecticut state coronavirus data. The school has slightly more than 350 students.

At Fort LeBoeuf Middle School in the small town of Waterford, Pennsylvania, full reopening began in September 2020 after the December COVID-19 surge forced the school to go hybrid. Currently about 80% of students are attending in person, while 20% are virtual.

The district has seen a “substantial” level of community spread since early November, the highest level, and remains at that level this week, according to self-reported data. The school currently has one positive case and eight students in quarantine. Overall, they’ve had 1,359 students quarantine at some point across the district since they reopened in September.

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