A memo sent out by Florida State University is illuminating a larger issue about women in the workplace and childcare.
The university continues to receive backlash from its employees after sending out a memo last week stating that they would “return to normal policy” on August 7 and employees would no longer be allowed “to care for children while working from home.”
The university aimed to correct the controversy a few days later by apologizing for the “confusion and anxiety” emphasizing that the policy will continue to allow employees to work from home and take care of children.
Yet, the situation spotlights a troubling reality for parents, particularly working mothers, amid the coronavirus pandemic as businesses reopen but schools and day care centers remain in limbo.
"I can't even process that -- the pandemic is not over and will not be over then," Dr. Jenny Root, an associate professor of special education at FSU, said of the memo on Twitter.
Katherine Musacchio Schafer, a doctoral candidate in clinical psychology at FSU, who has been caring for her 2-year-old daughter at home without child care said she “laughed out loud and then I called my older sister and her husband, who are lawyers in [Washington], D.C., and asked them, 'Is this legal?,'"
"It would be the exact same thing as if someone also sent you an email and was like, 'Hey, we've decided to not allow people to eat during the day,'" she told “Good Morning America.”
Dennis Schnittker, an FSU spokesman, spoke to the publication and explained that the date reflected when Tallahassee anticipated to open schools and daycares, however, with the uptick in cases, the timeline currently remains uncertain.
Florida, specifically, has seen an influx of cases as experts warn it has the makings of becoming the next epicenter of the virus.
It remains unclear if schools will return to in-person sessions in time for the fall semester as anxious parents and administrators worry about the safety of sending kids back as cases top 3 million in the U.S. and continue to spike.
However, President Trump is putting pressure on schools and challenging CDC guidelines, including Ivy League Universities, to reopen in the fall. He recently called Harvard’s plan for a virtual instruction in the fall semester an “easy way out,” adding, “I think they ought to be ashamed of themselves, if you want to know the truth,” he added.
Other Ivy League schools are considering a hybrid curriculum, or a mix of in-person and remote classes.
Lisa Levenstein, director of women's, gender and sexuality studies and associate professor of history at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro, told the publication the situation highlights the lack of childcare options in the U.S. and fears it will force many women, particularly those with lower incomes, out of the workforce.
"What we're going to see is increasing numbers of middle class women are just not going to be able to go back to work if their work changes from being able to be remote to being on site or they may decide they can't do it remotely, that it's too much with the kids," she said.
"They may just decide to drop out of the labor force and we know that will have lasting impacts because it's very difficult to get back into the labor force when you leave,” she added.
"I do think very easily that we could cross over into, 'Let's not even ask moms if they want to be involved in this project because we know they're busy,' and that's not OK," Schafer said of the possible detrimental effects on working moms.
Levenstein hopes that instead of negatively impacting women in the workforce, the pandemic will propel will be a time of real change and proper action to support moms in the professional space by passing “public policies” such as a higher minimum wage, family leave, and access to health care.