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WUWM's Emily Files reports on education in southeastern Wisconsin.

First Lady Jill Biden Holds Roundtable With MPS Parents

Emily Files
First Lady Jill Biden heard from Marvin Pratt Elementary's principal and and a handful of parents.

First Lady and community college professor Jill Biden visited Milwaukee Wednesday to talk about a safe return to schools and to promote the American Rescue Plan.

Biden held a roundtable conversation with parents at Marvin Pratt Elementary, one of the highest-rated MPS schools on the most recent state report card.

Biden emphasized the importance of getting students back to in-person learning – but acknowledged the nerves families are feeling.

"So now, a simple cough can really get your heart racing," Biden said. "You know that a quarantine could send your kids home and upend your life once again. So parents, I know this is hard, but you’re doing your best – and I want you to know you’re not alone."

Emily Files
First Lady Jill Biden speaks to parents at Marvin Pratt Elementary in Milwaukee, Wis.

The five parents and guardians at the roundtable talked about the challenges and silver linings of remote learning. They spoke about the sacrifices their families had to make while MPS was virtual for most of last school year.

Kindergarten parent Brednia Allen-Johnson said her mother quit her part-time job to stay home with Allen-Johnson’s son.

"My mom was always on there, always on point with him," Allen-Johnson said. "She sat by his side, she didn’t let him play. When he tried to do stuff that he saw other kids doing my mom would be like 'Nuh-uh Xavier, you can’t do that.' She was my rock, she was my blessing."

Allen-Johnson said this year, with her son back in the classroom, she’s tried to help his teacher by donating a fan and Lysol wipes.

Biden responded that federal COVID relief money should help schools buy those things.

"The ARP did provide for that for schools," Biden said. "I had to get that plug in there."

The American Rescue Plan was the third and largest round of federal stimulus money, which included a windfall for schools. MPS is eligible for $506 million in ARP funding, but the district has not decided yet how to spend it.

The roundtable also touched on the safety precautions schools were taking to keep students, many of whom are too young to get vaccinated, safe.

"When we visited the open house, the class sizes were smaller here, the dividers were up, there hasn’t been a debate about the masking situation here," said Jessica Davis, who has two children at Pratt.

"And that probably takes that stress off you as well," Biden responded.

"I couldn’t send my kid to school without a mask," Davis said.

In addition to the mask requirement, MPS implemented a vaccine mandate for employees last week. A reporter tried to ask Biden her opinion on vaccine mandates, but she did not take any questions.

Biden’s visit to a Milwaukee public school stood in contrast to Wisconsin education stops made by Trump administration officials in 2019 and 2020. Trump cabinet members focused their visits on school choicevisiting private voucher schools and attending school choice rallies.

Republican Party of Wisconsin Executive Director Mark Jefferson released a statement criticizing President Joe Biden ahead of the First Lady's visit to Milwaukee.

“The past seven months under the Biden administration have been a crash course in bad government as Wisconsin families witness skyrocketing prices, a disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan, and a small business-crushing workforce shortage," Jefferson said. "Not even Dr. Jill Biden can cover for her husband’s failing grade.”

Milwaukee is in for another high-profile Biden administration visit next week. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona is stopping here on his back-to-school tour. The details of that visit haven’t been announced.

COVID cases in children are at a high point in Milwaukee. Last week, almost a third of Milwaukee County COVID cases were in children.

In MPS, about 300 student and staff cases have been reported in the past week. But at Marvin Pratt, the site of Biden’s visit, only two cases have been identified since the beginning of the school year.

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Emily has been reporting on Milwaukee-area education for WUWM since 2018.
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