WAUWATOSA, Wis. – When Jill Biden introduced herself to millions of Americans during last month's Democratic National Convention, she did so from a high school where she once taught English near her Delaware home.
Since then, she's visited a classroom that would otherwise be filled with elementary school children, participated in a health briefing on how to safely resume in-person learning and met with teachers in a Wisconsin backyard.
The emphasis on education is a natural fit for someone who was a public school teacher for more than 20 years, earned two master's degrees and then a doctorate in education and continued teaching at a community college when her husband, Joe Biden, was vice president.
But in an election year where reopening schools shuttered by the coronavirus is emerging as a flashpoint, Jill Biden is increasingly drawing on her classroom experience to empathize with parents struggling to cope with the shift to virtual learning. She's taking a mostly virtual 10-city tour of schools disrupted by the pandemic and is trying to make the case that President Donald Trump doesn't deserve reeelection because of his handling of the coronavirus.
“I feel if Joe had been president at this time we would not be in the midst of this chaos,” Jill Biden told a mother and two teachers during a discussion that lasted more than half an hour on the patio of a private home last week in Wauwatosa, outside Milwaukee.
Trump has also tried to seize on schools as an election-year issue, pressuring state and local leaders to resume classroom instruction and threatening to withhold federal dollars for those who don't. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has sent mixed signals, saying students should return to the classroom but also noting that virtual classes present the lowest risk of COVID-19 spread.
The public appears more skeptical of reopening than the White House.
Only about 1 in 10 Americans thinks day care centers, preschools or K-12 schools should open this fall without restrictions, according to a poll released in late July from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs. Roughly 3 in 10 say that teaching kids in classrooms shouldn’t happen at all.