Sep 10, 2021
Joe Biden COVID-19 Safety in Schools Speech Transcript September 10
President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden gave remarks on COVID-19 safety precautions in schools on September 10, 2021. Read the transcript of the speech briefing here.
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Dr. Jill Biden: (00:00)
… is this sort of mix of emotions for all of us. All at once we feel the anticipation of new classmates and teachers, the relief of not having to hear I’m bored again and again, and the anxiety of juggling your family’s complicated schedule. And that was all before the uncertainties of COVID. Now, like a cough can start your heart racing because you know that a quarantine could send your kids home and up end your life once again. Parents, this is hard, but you’re doing your best. And I want you to know that you’re not alone.
Dr. Jill Biden: (00:49)
As a teacher for more than 30 years and a mom, I’ve seen that classrooms are so much more than places where our children learn math and reading. We’ve all seen it. When our kids make friends that last for years, when they learn to settle disagreements or find confidence when they try out for sports teams. And parents rely on schools too, heading to our own jobs or pursuing our education, knowing that our kids are in an environment that we can trust.
Dr. Jill Biden: (01:25)
And that’s why I am so grateful for the educators who helped us through the last year, right Miguel? he cafeteria workers who spent long hours making sandwiches for hungry families. Teachers who retaught lessons at night for students who couldn’t use their family computer during the day, because maybe a sibling was on his or her class. Bus drivers drove wifi hotspots to neighborhoods with no connection. Counselors took call after call from parents in tears, just trying to juggle it all. When families needed help the most, educators answered the call. With all of my heart, thank you for being the heroes that we needed.
Dr. Jill Biden: (02:23)
Today, our administration is making sure that schools like Brooklyn have the resources and the support they need to bring students back to class where they belong. And we are going to partner with you because we can’t always know what the future holds, but we do know what we owe our children. We owe them a promise to keep their schools open as safe as possible. We owe them a commitment to follow the science. We owe them unity so that we can fight the virus, not each other. As we move forward, it’s going to take all of us, students and families, educators, and local leaders, cities and states coming together to make this school year the best it can be. Joe puts students and their families, the educators at the heart of everything his administration is doing to defeat and recover from this pandemic.
Dr. Jill Biden: (03:34)
And as a teacher myself, I couldn’t be more proud to stand beside him. We are committed to working as hard for your children as you do. And now, it’s my pleasure to introduce a young man who I know makes this school very proud. He’s a hardworking student and the editor of the student led newspaper, the Brooklyn Buzz. So please welcome Elijah Pool. Okay, Elijah.
Elijah Pool: (04:17)
Thank you, Dr. Biden. What an amazing honor it is to be introduced by the First Lady of the United States. As Dr. Biden stated, my name is Elijah Pool, an eighth grade scholar here at Brooklyn Middle School. Brooklyn Middle School is an arts integrated school located in District of Columbia public school system in Washington, DC. In March of 2019, our lives changed forever. I was thriving academically as a sixth grade scholar, involving athletics and afterschool activities. It was announced that we were going on a spring break due to the pandemic. What kid would not be excited to go on an early spring break? What was supposed to be one week turned into 18 months of virtual learning. I’m not going to lie. That was really hard. Having to learn in a virtual setting, build relationships with new teachers, and keep my grades up. That was a lot for a scholar entering his second year of middle school.
Elijah Pool: (05:13)
However, I excelled and remained on honor roll and even made new friends virtually. Despite my success in a virtual setting, I hoped to return to in-person learning for my eighth grade year. My last year as a middle school scholar. I’m excited to be back in school. However, having to wear a mask all day is a bit uncomfortable, but we know it’s necessary for the health and safety of all students and staff. As a 13 year old scholar, I was able to receive the COVID vaccination. A little birdie shared with me that Dr. Biden is terrified of needles. That’s something we have in common.
Dr. Jill Biden: (05:52)
Elijah Pool: (05:56)
Yesterday, I found I was selected to introduce the President of the United States of America. I questioned, why me? How did I get selected for such an honor? Then I thought, why not me? I had matured into a young black male excelling academically and socially here at Brooklyn Middle School. I am a black male living in America. I worked hard for this honor, and I’m genuinely grateful. At this time, it is my extreme honor to introduce the 46th President of the United States of America, President Joe Biden.
President Biden: (06:32)
Elijah Pool: (06:35)
President Biden: (06:35)
What an impressive young man.
Dr. Jill Biden: (06:44)
President Biden: (06:48)
When I was your age… You’re going to sit down, babe, or you’re going to stand?
Dr. Jill Biden: (06:51)
Oh, yeah. We’re going to sit down. I forgot.
President Biden: (06:58)
No, you don’t have to. Elijah, when I was your age in eighth grade, I wasn’t a bad student, and I wasn’t a bad athlete, but I’ll tell you what. I could no more do what you just did than fly, because I used to talk, talk, talk, talk like, like that. I stuttered. And especially when I had to do something in public or read aloud. And I am amazed when I see young women and men like you who can stand up and speak with such grace and ease. It’s really impressive. Really, really impressive.
President Biden: (07:42)
Well, folks, this is not like the school I went to. When they said we were going to speak outside, I wonder why the hell are we going up all these stairs? I thought we’d be out in the parking lot. I mean, for real, that’s where I thought we’re going to be. Elijah, thank you for the introduction. And Jill and I, along with Secretary Cardona and Mayor Bowzer are here because we want you to know how very proud, how very proud of you and your classmates we all are.
President Biden: (08:12)
I also want to thank Principal Richardson. I was kidding him. I was saying this school is really something else. And the way we talked about the interfacing of all the students and the social educations taking place and how things are changing. And Chancellor Ferebee, I told you, I think that’s maybe the harder job than about anything I can think of. Thank you. You’re doing a heck of a job.
President Biden: (08:42)
We know the start of the school year is an excellent time to mix anticipation and nervousness. And the pandemic adds to that mix of emotions. And I think about all the parents I’ve talked to since the start of this pandemic worried about the loss of learning that their child, missed opportunities a child is having, because so many of them had to stay at home, all had to stay at home, but so many of them didn’t have access to the internet. Didn’t have access to… didn’t have the equipment, worried about whether or not the school lunch program was going to still be available. So much anxiety.
President Biden: (09:20)
And it’s not just academics. It’s the friendship and the socialization that may be equally as consequential. You know, it’s access to critical services like meals, school counseling, and that helps these students stay physically and mentally alert. But I want folks to know that we’re going to be okay. We’re going to be okay. We know what it takes to keep our children safe and our schools open and we have the tools to do it. Last night, I laid out a plan for the fall to beat this pandemic. And basically it has six parts. Vaccinate the unvaccinated. And thank you for getting the vaccination and thank your parents for doing that.
President Biden: (10:02)
Two is to protect the vaccinated. Three is increase testing and masking. Four is to take care of people with COVID. Five is to keep our economy going, and six is keep our children safe and in school and schools open. Now for any parent, it doesn’t matter how low the risk of any illness is when it could happen to your child. But we all know if schools follow the science and they are here and implement safety measures like vaccinations, testing, masking, then children can be safe in schools, safe from COVID-19. My plan does all these things.
President Biden: (10:46)
On vaccinations, it comes down to two separate categories, children ages 12 and older, like Elijah, who are eligible for vaccines. And he got his. Children ages 11 and under who are not yet eligible. The safest thing you can do for your child 12 and over is get them vaccinated. That’s it. Simple, plain, straightforward. Get them vaccinated. So parents, get your teenagers vaccinated. You’ve got them vaccinated for all kinds of other things. Measles, mumps, rubella, for them to go to school, to be able to play sports. They’ve had to have those vaccinations. Get them vaccinated. COVID-19 vaccine is easy. It is safe and it’s convenient. And we work to bring the vaccine clinics to our schools as well. Mayor Bowser’s done one heck of a job. You really have, man.
President Biden: (11:34)
You’re doing a heck of a job across the board. I really mean that, but you set up vaccination clinics in about 20 school sites, including here in Brooklyn, because you’re going to continue through the month of September. So there’s really no excuse to not be able. You can get vaccinated. It’s not like it’s so distant to do. We’re giving prizes and incentives to encourage children and families to get the shots. And look, their efforts are working. 65% of the children ages 12 to 17 here in DC have gotten at least one shot like Elijah. That’s incredible.
President Biden: (12:13)
That’s one of the highest rates in the nation for children between the ages of 12 and 17. And for students here in Brooklyn, once you all get vaccinated, you’re invited to a special visit at the White House. I know I’m going to get in trouble with the secret service and everybody else. I’m not sure how we’re going to mechanically do it, but I assume the buses can get you to the White House. And if we can’t get you all in one room, we’ll be out in the Rose Garden or out in the back there. And maybe let you fly the helicopters or not. I’m only joking about that. I was just downstairs in the science class. It’s amazing that, you saw it, mayor. It’s amazing. These kids are excited about building a vehicle that can land on the moon. I really mean it. And I asked them, I said, “How many of you want to go to the moon?” Everybody but one said they wanted to go to the moon.
President Biden: (13:00)
I asked how many want to go to Mars? And I think they all raised their hand as well, but it’s really… And they’re excited about it. Now, the best way for parents to protect a child under 12 starts at home. Every parent, every teen sibling, every caregiver around them should be vaccinated. Children have four times higher chance of getting hospitalized if they live in an area with low vaccination rates, rather than high vaccination rates. That goes for the home as well. There’s a high vaccination rate in the home, it significantly diminishes the possibilities. Now, if you’re a parent of a young child, you’re wondering when will the vaccine be available for them? I strongly support independent scientific view of vaccine usage for children under 12, but I’ve told them I will do everything within my power to support the Food and Drug Administration, the FDA on its ongoing efforts to do the science as safely and as quickly as possible.
President Biden: (14:02)
And our nation’s doctors will keep the public updated on the process, so parents can have a plan to give them the sense of what progress is being made. The vaccinations of our educators, today, about 90% of school staff and teachers are vaccinated. We should have that at 100%. We’re requiring vaccinations for teachers where I have authority to require who work in US government and educators in Head Start, which is a federal program because it’s funded by the federal government. But I’m calling on all governors to require vaccination for all teachers and staff. Vaccination requirements in schools are nothing new. They work. They’re overwhelmingly supported by educators and their unions.
President Biden: (14:46)
Now on school safety measures, in our American Rescue Plan, which we passed early on, we provided the funding for ventilation systems, cleaning and sanitizing services, and critical safety measures to significantly reduce the spread of the virus and protect our children and keep our schools safe. And we will do whatever it takes this school year as well, especially, especially on increasing testing. We provided funding through the American Rescue Plan to implement testing in schools for teachers, staff, and students. And that includes bus drivers as well. I want all, I want all schools setting up regular testing programs to make sure we detect and isolate cases before they can spread.
President Biden: (15:29)
I will mobilize American industries to produce nearly 300 million more rapid COVID-19 tests for distribution all around the country, including the schools that need them. You know, I’m going to use what we call the Defense Production Act that allows me to ensure that what we need made, we can ask the private enterprise to make them because they’re of national interest. They’re going to make these tests as quickly as possible. I’m going to use the Defense Production Act.
President Biden: (15:58)
My plan will also expand free testing that you can get at 10,000 pharmacies around the country. Walmart, Amazon, and Kroger’s will sell at home rapid test at cost, which means they’re going to charge no more than it cost them to buy the test from the manufacturer. And that will be the same way for the next three months. That’s a discount of about 35%, about 35%. This is important for everyone, particularly for a parent of a child not old enough to be vaccinated. You’ll be able to test your child at home and test those around them as well. And unmasking, we know masks work. They are uncomfortable sometimes, and they get tired of wearing them. I understand. I really do. And I wear them in the White House. Under the CDC guidelines, every person in a school, teachers, staff, students should be masked while indoors.
President Biden: (16:56)
To all the school officials trying to do the right thing by our children, I will always be on your side, no matter how much heat you’re getting from outside. And let me close this. I’ve often said that our children are the kite strings. They’re all our children, not just our children, everybody’s children. They’re the kite strings that lift our national ambitions aloft. That’s not hyperbole. That’s a fact. We owe it to them to do everything we can to keep them safe in school, dreaming, learning, thriving, socializing, becoming good citizens.
President Biden: (17:36)
It means following the science, wearing a mask, getting tested, getting vaccinated. It means working together and looking out for each other, like they teach you in school. We can look out for each other. We can do this. I think you’re going to have a great school year. I can see the enthusiasm. And if you just walk in the classrooms, there’s real enthusiasm. I’m sure there were some classrooms I was in through school where anybody walked, oh, here we go now, but you’ve been really great. You really have.
President Biden: (18:09)
And principal, you’ve done a great job here. You really have. And I hope everybody gets to see this. I wish I could take the whole nation around this, every one of these classrooms and see what’s going on because it’s such a great example. So again, thank you. Have a great school year. And Elijah, I’m going to find out if I can find out when your football games are. I may want to try to figure out without 10,000 secret service agents to come and see you play a little bit. Okay? Thank you very much.
Speaker 4: (18:47)
[inaudible 00:18:47] call your vaccination requirements an overreach, who are threatening to challenge it in court?
President Biden: (18:52)
Have at it. Look, I am so disappointed that particularly some Republican governors have been so cavalier with the health of these kids. So cavalier with the health of their communities. We’re playing for real here. This isn’t a game. And I don’t know of any scientists out there in this field that doesn’t think it makes considerable sense to do the six things I’ve suggested.
President Biden: (19:31)
Let me conclude with this. One of the lessons I hope our students can unlearn is that politics doesn’t have to be this way. Politics doesn’t have to be this way. They’re growing up in an environment where they see it’s like a war, like a bitter feud. If a Democrat says right, everybody says left. If a Democrat say left, they say right. I mean, it’s not how we are. It’s not who we are as a nation. And it’s not how we beat every other crisis in our history. We got to come together. And I think the vast majority… Look at the polling data. The vast majority of American people know we have to do these things. They’re hard, but necessary. We’re going to get them done. Thank you.