First Lady Jill Biden and U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren praised the work of teachers during the pandemic and called for more gun reforms in the wake of a school shooting in Texas during Friday morning speeches in Boston.
During remarks at the American Federation of Teachers 2022 Convention at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center, which drew thousands of attendees, Warren said educators have dealt with increased mental health needs and adjusted their teaching methods to support students during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Congress, she said, should “take some responsibility for all you deal with,” including the rise of mass shootings across the country and the deaths of students in classrooms.
There are other terrible events “where America’s lawmakers have failed you,” Warren said, like the death of 19 students and two teachers when a gunman walked into Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas in May.
“Everyone in this room has read the stories. Everyone in this room has had to think through active shooter drills or when to alert the authorities about heightened security risks,” Warren said to a room full of thousands of educators. “These shootings are not completely unforeseen events. They are not isolated acts of evil when Congress is unable to pass laws for universal background checks or to ban assault weapons and high capacity magazines.”
Congress did pass legislation in June that incrementally toughens requirements for young people buying guns, denies firearms to more domestic abusers, and helps local authorities temporarily take weapons from people judged to be dangerous. It’s a bill Biden said at a Thursday evening fundraiser is a good start and represents some progress on the issue.
The federal legislation came as a response to the Uvalde school shooting and a separate one in Buffalo, New York, where 10 Black people were killed at a supermarket. But for Warren, more needs to be done.
“We must pass common sense gun safety laws,” she said to cheers from the crowd. “If we need to get rid of the filibuster to get it done, I’m all in.”
Earlier Friday, during the convention, U.S. Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh said teachers have had to help students deal with the “terror of gun violence” in schools as they themselves process atrocities.
“You are doing this in the face of, in many places, short staffing, and staffing levels. You’re doing this in the face of vicious attacks on your curriculum, on your profession,” he said. “The attacks on teachers in the United States of America are wrong, and we must fight them back whenever they appear.”
An educator herself for the past 38 years, Biden said teaching has become much harder during and after the COVID pandemic. But educators, she said, have not stopped showing up for students.
“You keep your voice calm when you explain active shooter drills, and how you teach your kids to stay quiet when they have to hide under their desks even though a part of you breaks into pieces each time,” Biden said. “We believe that AR-15s, the weapon that tore apart 19 children and two teachers in their classrooms, have no place on our streets.”
Both Warren and Biden encouraged educators to stay strong after a grueling pandemic where teachers have gone through remote and hybrid models, all while dealing with their own health and safety.
Warren said teaching has always been a difficult job, even during the best of times.
“Over the past few years, you have confronted historic challenges that have made your jobs even tougher,” she said. “But you have all gone above and beyond as teachers always do.”
Biden said there is something “profoundly optimistic about education.”
“To answer this call of service is in itself an act of hope, and we need that hope now more than ever,” she said. “Our schools are where our policies become people, and educators are at the center of it all.”
Biden continued her trip in Massachusetts Friday with a visit to an electrical substation in Boston’s Seaport District with Walsh where Bunker Hill Community College students are taking part in a paid summer internship with Eversource.
Biden then heads to Nantucket a day before a Democratic National Committee fundraiser.
Materials from the Associated Press were used in this report.