Two years into a pandemic-induced campaign for “parents’ rights” in schools, first lady Jill Biden is calling for stronger partnerships between educators and families.
“From reopening schools to class curriculum, we’ve been told that parents and teachers are at odds,” Biden said at the 125th National Parent Teacher Association convention Friday. “But as I visit schools and I meet with families, that’s not what I’ve seen.”
Biden, a community college teacher who will be entering her 38th year of teaching in the fall, used Friday’s speech as an opportunity to rebuke the notion that parents and teachers are on opposite sides of education issues.
Over the course of the pandemic, parent protests over mask mandates, curriculum decisions, and book selections have made headlines for their increasing ferocity. They’ve led to arguments at school board meetings, new state laws like Florida’s parent rights law, and a proposed “Parents Bill of Rights Act” from one member of the U.S. Senate.
A mother and grandmother as well as an educator, Biden said she’s been “frustrated by those who have tried to divide” parents and teachers in the past few years.
“Parents, we know that we are our children’s first teachers, and, educators, we choose this path because we love what we do and who we teach,” Biden said. “Together, we can lead the change that our children need.”
The speech came days after the U.S. Department of Education announced new plans for a National Parents and Families Engagement Council, an effort to bring more parent voices into both local and national decisions. The council will be tasked with helping local schools and school districts connect with families when developing plans for COVID-19 recovery.
“I hear it so much, parents who are worried that their kids are having a hard time catching up after learning virtually; educators who tell me that they’re burned out; students who are dealing with the trauma of loss and grief,” Biden said.
The first lady added that partnerships between parents and educators are crucial to the success of COVID-19 recovery as well as to recent efforts to improve school safety.
A call for parents and teachers to lead the fight for school safety
Friday’s speech also served as an opportunity for Biden to push for gun safety measures.
The first lady described her experience laying white roses next to the crosses that represented 19 students and two teachers who were killed in a shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, on May 24. She also spoke of her own experience as a teacher, imagining herself being placed in that situation.
“I’ve wondered over the years if my students would be the next heartbreaking headline,” she said. “All of you in here who are in the classroom know this.”
Biden called on Congress to pass “common-sense gun laws” like recent legislation proposed by a bipartisan group of senators. If passed, the bipartisan deal would ban “assault weapons,” create an enhanced review process for gun owners 21 or younger, prohibit people convicted of domestic violence from purchasing guns, subject gun sales to background checks, and provide resources to help states and tribes create “red-flag laws.”
Strong partnerships between teachers and parents are an important piece in the fight to prevent future school shootings, Biden said.
“Parents and teachers, all of us, we need to fight now for the lives of our children and the safety of our schools,” she said. “This partnership of parents and educators is powerful.”