By Ana Ceballos, The News Service of Florida
Florida State University officials on Thursday backpedaled from a memo that said employees would no longer be able to care for children while working from home starting in August.
University officials told employees last week that, effective Aug. 7, the school would revert to its “normal policy and will no longer allow employees to care for children while working remotely.”
The move raised concerns among employees and garnered the attention of national media outlets, including The Washington Post.
The outcry prompted university officials to issue a “clarification” about the remote-work policy on Thursday.
“We realize that 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 want to communicate to our dedicated faculty and staff,” FSU Associate Vice President for Human Resources Renisha Gibbs said in a memo Thursday.
Gibbs said the policy does allow employees to work from home while caring for children, but the university is asking employees to “coordinate with their supervisors on a schedule to allow them to meet their parental responsibilities in addition to work obligations.”
Managers should work with human resources “to develop solutions for schedules that cannot be worked out between the employee and immediate supervisor,” Gibbs advised in Thursday’s memo.
“We regret that our initial communication caused any unnecessary worry and concern or oversimplified a very nuanced issue. We want to reassure everyone that health, safety, and the well-being of the FSU family is our top priority,” she added.
As the COVID-19 pandemic began to shut down public schools, universities and day care centers in March, FSU offered a more flexible remote-work policy to employees.
But in a June 26 memo, university officials said the “temporary exception” would be lifted on Aug. 7.
“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,” FSU associate professor Jenny Root tweeted on Saturday.
In a Thursday morning Twitter post, Root said that the university had clarified the policy in an “email that had an inclusive and supportive tone.”
“I hope actions in coming months reflect their stated goals of helping everyone do their part to keep each other safe and well,” she tweeted.
FSU officials are gearing up to reopen university campuses in the fall, but details about the plans remain in flux as the number of COVID-19 cases in Florida continues to skyrocket. State health officials on Thursday reported a single-day record of more than 10,000 new COVID-19 cases.
“The University will continue to monitor the data and adapt to the evolving situation,” FSU spokesman Dennis Schnittker said in an email Thursday.
Gibbs acknowledged that FSU’s policies could also be affected by a potential delay in the reopening of public schools.
FSU plans to revert to its standard work-from-home policy in August “in anticipation of local schools re-opening and many employees returning to campus,” she said in Thursday’s memo.
Even as Florida has reported a minimum of 5,000 new COVID-19 cases on each of the last nine days, Gov. Ron DeSantis and state education officials are not backing down from their goal to reopen state universities and public schools in the fall semester.
The state Department of Health reported that an 11-year-old boy in Miami-Dade County died from complications of COVID-19 on Wednesday, the youngest coronavirus-related death recorded in Florida thus far.
The state has a “moral imperative to do our absolute best to return our school to full operation by August,” Florida Department of Education spokeswoman Taryn Fenske said in an email Wednesday.
“We simply cannot give into fear of the unknown and just stop trying,” Fenske wrote. “Our children’s education, the comprehensive health of our families — mental health and stability in homes — and our economy are all depending on us to make every effort to reopen our school campuses.”