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Harvard reversed its decision to close campus day care centers during the first three weeks of January on Wednesday after more than 120 families signed onto an open letter calling on the University to continue providing child care services while it moves most operations online.
Campus Child Care, the non-profit that manages Harvard’s six day care centers, will reopen on Jan. 12 following a 12-day closure. The school had originally planned to close its child care centers during the first three weeks of the new year as campus operations move online due to the pandemic.
The University announced Wednesday that the centers, which provide services to more than 400 children, will reopen with reduced hours and prorated tuition.
The change comes after 121 parents signed onto an open letter to University President Lawrence S. Bacow and other top administrators calling on the school to implement “a revised plan” as soon as possible.
The letter called child care an “essential service” enabling affiliates to continue fulfilling all work-related responsibilities without compromising on their children’s wellbeing.
“We are exhausted,” the open letter said. “We cannot put in the work for Harvard if Harvard does not support us in the care of our children.”
The letter noted that the child care centers remained open through the pandemic with daily symptom checks, indoor masking, and testing. With the new requirement that Harvard affiliates get Covid-19 booster shots, the letter added “the risk to [Campus Child Care] community members is as well-mitigated as possible.”
In an email to Campus Child Care staff and families on Wednesday, University Human Resources Vice President Manuel Cuevas-Trisan and Faculty Development and Diversity Senior Vice Provost Judith D. Singer apologized for the added anxiety created by the initial announcement.
“We sincerely appreciate the concerns both teachers and parents have raised following our initial announcement that the centers would be closed during this period,” the administrators wrote. “We are mindful that this announcement added to the anxiety already experienced by both center families and center teaching staff due to the continued unpredictability of the pandemic, and for that we apologize.”
The centers will remain completely closed for the first nine days of January, during which teachers will be tested for Covid-19 three times and receive booster shots if they have not already. All families will be refunded for this period. Any family that opts to keep their children home during the first three weeks of January will also receive a refund.
The centers will reopen for staff on Jan. 10 before welcoming families back on Jan. 12. Children will be required to present a negative Covid test taken within one day of returning to day care and undergo daily symptom checks.
Harvard Kennedy School Professor Maya Sen ’00, whose 2-year-old child attends day care at Harvard, wrote that she “would suspend or cut back on research and writing” without Campus Child Care. The revised plan, she wrote, addresses some of her concerns.
“It’s a huge relief to know faculty parents with kids enrolled in on-campus day care won’t be out of work for most of January, but the possibility of sudden, prolonged closures is still really worrisome,” Sen wrote.
Conor J. Walsh, a professor of Engineering and Applied Sciences whose two children attend Harvard day care, also said the revised plan is an improvement. But he added that he is still unsure what his family will do during the 12-day closure.
“With the revised plan, while it does provide the possibility for more child care in January that was originally planned, it’s still a massive blow to not have child care [for part of January],” Walsh said.
Laura H. Owen ’06, the editor of the Nieman Journalism Lab whose 22-month-old child attends Campus Child Care, wrote in an email that she was “overall satisfied” with the change.
“I think the revised plan is reasonable,” Owen wrote. “A week and a half of working without childcare is still really hard, but at least for my family, it is inconvenient, not catastrophic.”
Owen added that she hopes Harvard administrators will include parents and teachers in decision-making processes around child care earlier on.
The school also announced Wednesday that it will establish a child care working group “to focus on ways we can continue to build trust and strengthen relationships with all members of our community.”
“Going forward, I hope that Harvard’s administration will include parents — and teachers — in decisions about the youngest members of its community early on in the decision-making process,” Owen wrote. “We will come up with better ideas when we work together.”
—Staff writer Cara J. Chang can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @CaraChang20.
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