UPDATE, July 10, 2020: After the publication of this article, Florida State University responded to The Western Journal’s request for comment.
“Our professors have always been allowed to care for their children while working from home and our faculty continue to be allowed to care for their children while working from home,” Dennis Schnittker, the director of university news and digital communications, said in an email. “In fact, all our employees — faculty and staff — are allowed to care for their children while working at home during the current pandemic.”
“We now realize that our imprecise wording as well as the timing of the message — as COVID-19 cases continue to rise locally and around the state — caused confusion and anxiety for many employees,” he added.
“We want to be clear — our policy does allow employees to work from home while caring for children.”
This article has been updated to include additional comments from Schnittker.
As certain states begin rolling back public health restrictions amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, many parents are struggling to strike harmony between child care plans and ever-changing employment situations.
Florida State University staff saw a wrench thrown in those efforts late last month, when the institution made several controversial about-faces regarding whether employees with parental commitments would be able to care for their children while working remotely in the coming weeks.
According to Washington Post-owned women’s publication The Lily, university employees have always been contractually obligated to ensure their children are under the care of another while working remotely.
However, when stateside coronavirus outbreaks triggered stay-at-home orders in Florida and across the nation, forcing widespread remote work and schooling scenarios, the university announced it would temporarily abridge the policy in order to lighten the burden placed on working parents.
On June 26, the university caught heavy flak when the announcement came down that it would be returning to its initial policy come August 7 in an attempt to return to normalcy.
“In March 2020, the University communicated a temporary exception to policy which allowed employees to care for children at home while on the Temporary Remote Work agreement,” the memo read.
“Effective, August 7, 2020, the University will return to normal policy and will no longer allow employees to care for children while working remotely.”
My uni (in FLORIDA) just announced that effective August 7th the University will no longer allow employees to care for children while working remotely. I can’t even process that- the pandemic is not over and will not be over then.
— Dr. Jenny Root (@Dr_Jenny_Root) June 27, 2020
campus care is full and ???Faculty get paid parental leave (that can be taken only 1x- I took in spring). My director is great & husband (also works FT) shares in caregiving. I worry about even more vulnerable faculty and staff – and their children!
— Dr. Jenny Root (@Dr_Jenny_Root) June 27, 2020
The news came alongside updated information pertaining to the university’s campus re-opening plans, which had previously been scheduled for early July. Instead, however, administrators had opted to place those plans on hold for the foreseeable future.
According to Johns Hopkins data, the university’s native Leon County saw positive coronavirus tests surge by nearly 300 cases to 998 in the three days following the announcement. Statewide, totals have ballooned to more than 224,000 in the past month.
Regardless of the FSU’s rationale, staff members were anything but pleased, left in a major child-care bind by the announcement.
“My initial thought was, ‘Well, what am I supposed to do with [my kids]?” assistant professor of special education and mother-of-two Jenny Root said.
“None of us are enjoying this. It makes me feel like I’m failing at everything I do,” the professor said, adding that FSU is “acting like they gave us this privilege to watch our children while we worked — when that’s literally what I had to do.”
She was far from the only faculty member with concerns.
“There has been no lapse in the kind of support my students need,” another anonymous employee said. “It’s not reasonable to say you can’t keep your kid and work at the same time. They’re reverting back to normal policies when life is not normal yet.”
The policy was later updated once again in the face of employee pushback, The Lily reported. Administrators clarified that the announcement only “applies to employees whose job duties require them to be on campus full-time during normal business hours” and excludes professors.
Some tenured staff members were able to breathe a bit easier. However, the update only sparked further aggravation among others, leading many to claim these adjustments only compounded the stress for workers with less solidified employment statuses.
“Due, I imagine to the way this has gone viral on social media … a slight retraction was issued today, which actually only compounds the initial problem,” FSU history professor Cathy McClive wrote in an email. “The policy now applies to staff not faculty — so those without tenure are in the most precarious positions.”
By the following week, the university apologized for causing any “confusion and anxiety” and claimed its previous communications had never been meant to prevent employees from playing the role of caretaker while working remotely.
“We want to be clear,” Dennis Schnittker, the director of university news and digital communications, told The Western Journal in an email. “Our policy does allow employees to work from home while caring for children.”
Schnittker said the message sent out on June 26 had not been stated clearly, and “as a result, was misunderstood by many.”
“We now realize that our imprecise wording as well as the timing of the message — as COVID-19 cases continue to rise locally and around the state — caused confusion and anxiety for many employees. That is the opposite of what we wanted to communicate to our dedicated faculty and staff,” he continued.
“With so many factors still in flux — including increasing numbers of COVID cases and the possible delay of the re-opening of local schools — we recognize the need for sensitivity, flexibility, and deference to the personal and public health imperatives of this moment.”
Schnittker explained staff members will need to discuss their needs with their supervisors to come up with a schedule that will allow them “to meet their parental responsibilities in addition to work obligations.”
“This may be different for each employee based on the specifics of their situation and the nature of their job,” Schnittker said. “Managers should work with Human Resources to develop solutions for schedules that cannot be worked out between the staff employee and immediate supervisor. “
“We regret that our email communication caused any unnecessary worry and concern or oversimplified a very nuanced issue. We want to reassure everyone that the health, safety, and well-being of all FSU employees — as well as our students — are our top priority. We thank our valued employees for their hard work and dedication to moving the institution forward during this very challenging time.”
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