PRIOR LAKE, Minn. — Jill Biden on Wednesday, Sept. 9, pitched her husband Joe Biden's plan to reopen schools with additional resources amid the coronavirus pandemic and heard concerns from educators and officials.
During her first Minnesota stop of the campaign cycle, the former second lady told teachers and DFL leaders gathered at Jeffers Pond Elementary School in Prior Lake, Minn., that having a more cohesive federal plan to manage COVID-19 and to fund food services, mental health and technology needs in schools could help officials reopen for in-person instruction.
Biden's visit comes as Minnesota kicks off its 2020-21 school year with some students learning in-person and others at home. And it is the latest stop Biden has made as part of a listening tour to understand challenges in getting students back to school amid the pandemic.
While most school years come with excitement around new opportunities, this one comes with new anxieties and a need for clear answers, she said.
“After more than 30 years of teaching, I still get excited at the start of every new school year,” Biden, an educator, told those sitting in a socially distanced circle in the gym. “These feelings of excitement have turned into anxiety. The playgrounds are still and some classrooms are dark as the bright young faces that should fill them are now confined to boxes on a computer screen. While some classrooms are open, they are filled with unknowns.”
“When my husband is president, he already has a plan," she continued. "He’s not going to wait. He already has a plan to reopen schools."
Gov. Tim Walz, U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, U.S. Rep. Angie Craig, Education Minnesota President Denise Specht and teachers from Prior Lake and other communities joined a discussion about safe protocols for returning to the classroom amid the coronavirus pandemic. And they asked for federal help in creating safer school environments.
"There’s a lot of ways that our government can really help us," said LeAnn Weikle, a teacher at Jeffers Pond Elementary. "Follow through on the resources that we need because our students succeed when we have the resources that we need to support them."
Walz, Minnesota's first-term DFL governor, asked that Biden and her husband work with states to help fight COVID-19 if elected.
"We just need a partner," Walz said. "It’s not about who’s right and who’s wrong, it’s just about the kids."
Minnesota Republicans on Wednesday said it was "disingenuous" of Jill Biden to make a stop in the North Star state to talk about the value of safely reopening schools when state guidance required many to start the year in at least partial distance learning due to case counts in the counties in which schools sit. And they said Biden was only making the stop because the clock was ticking down to Election Day, Nov. 3.
"It has been over 1,000 days since Joe Biden has stepped into Minnesota and now that there are 55 days until the election it is very clear to see through their antics," Minnesota Republican Party Chairwoman Jennifer Carnahan told reporters. “While we all take the importance of COVID-19 and the changing shift of this pandemic seriously, we also take very seriously the future of children."
Campaign surrogates supporting Biden and President Donald Trump have said they plan to spend time in Minnesota as the state has been projected to be a toss-up. Hillary Clinton bested Trump in the state in 2016 by 1.5 percentage points.
But with a more substantive campaign and fundraising efforts in the state heading into the 2020 contest, Minnesota Republicans and the Trump campaign have said they expect to have a stronger chance at snapping the state's longest-in-the-nation track record of supporting Democrats in presidential contests.
Donald Trump Jr. was set to hold a campaign rally on his father's behalf Wednesday evening in Duluth and Lara Trump, Trump's daughter-in-law and campaign adviser, was set to visit Minneapolis Thursday, Sept. 10.