By Corinne Murdock
The governing board president of Flagstaff charter school Northern Preparatory Academy (NPA), Cristy Schaefer Zeller, resigned Thursday evening after calling parents and students opposed to mask mandates “the worst of humanity who can’t STFU [shut the f*** up].” It isn’t immediately apparent what prompted Zeller’s social media post, but that same day several students refused to wear masks as required by NPA’s mask mandate, which had just gone into effect.
In her resignation letter, Zeller said that those who were upset by her remarks and called for her resignation were bullies. Despite Zeller’s track record online of speaking freely about her beliefs, she claimed that she had no way of defending herself or standing up for her beliefs.
It doesn’t appear that NPA leadership wanted Zeller to resign. In an email obtained by AZ Free News, NPA Superintendent David Lykins told parents on Wednesday that Zeller’s comments were her own and not authorized or endorsed by any aspect of NPA. Lykins wrote:
Dear NPA Community,
I wanted to acknowledge that one of our NPA Governing Board Members had made statements on their Facebook account as a private citizen that do not reflect the core values of Northland Preparatory Academy. These comments are the views of an individual and they were not authorized or endorsed by the NPA Governing Board as a public body, NPA as a school, or NPA’s faculty and staff.
I have met with this Board member this afternoon and she has issued a public statement regarding this issue (see attached). Additionally, I would also like to share that all pertinent information surrounding these statements will be shared with the remainder of the Northland Preparatory Academy Governing Board for future discussions and planning at the Board level.
I received communication from an NPA parent today that shared the following, “leadership is an awesome responsibility, and as leaders we are human and make mistakes.” I agree with this statement, but also feel it is important to acknowledge our mistakes, learn from them and take actions to prevent them from happening again.
Zeller’s statement read:
I am proud to serve on the NPA Governing Board as its President. It has come to my attention that statements I made on my personal social media accounts have been circulating among the Flagstaff community. As a private citizen I work as an activist, however my personal opinions and politics are mine alone, and do not reflect those of Northland Preparatory Academy or its Governing Board. I continue to remain committed to NPA’s mission and the health and safety of our community, and making NPA a diverse, equitable, and inclusive environment for all. (emphasis added)
In her post condemning those opposed to masks, Zeller cited that her fellow liberals, as well as a number of educators and health care workers she’d spoken with, were angry and frustrated. She claimed that Flagstaff’s socioeconomic systems are falling apart.
“[…] Us liberals tend to want to be fixers and empathetic and all the rainbows and unicorns. No more. As MTV taught us… it’s time to stop being polite and start being real. Get busy,” wrote Zeller. “I am not being dramatic. I have spoken with dozens of people in education and healthcare that are about to break, if they are not already broken. They are angry, sad, and defeated. They love their professions, but despise their jobs right now. The anger and frustration is electric. It did not have to be this way. We are so angry that we now have to spend our time dealing with the worst of humanity who can’t STFU about their freedom to choose about a piece of fabric on their face.” [emphasis added]
Last Friday, AZ Free News reported on Zeller’s Facebook post and her other social media posts ridiculing mask critics, Trump supporters, and Republicans as “idiot a**holes” and intellectually inferior. At the time of publication, Zeller’s Facebook and Twitter pages containing these remarks were public.
Zeller’s resignation letter is reproduced below:
To the Members of the Northland Preparatory Academy Governing Board and Administration:
I have come to the very difficult decision that it is time for me to resign my position as President and Member of the Northland Preparatory Governing Board effective immediately. I am immensely proud of the work we have done together over the last five years. Our accomplishments together include:
Hiring of a new Superintendent
-A Board Statement on Gun Violence
-A Board Acknowledgment of Racism at NPA and a plan to address it, which included the establishment of a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee
-Navigating the last 17 months of the COVID-19 pandemic
-The courageous decision to mandate masks on the NPA campus this fall.
I care deeply for the students and faculty of NPa, and a large part of me feels that I am abandoning them at a time when strong leadership is more important than ever. It is antithetical to who I am that I would allow someone else to bully or pressure me into such a decision, however I find the current situation to be untenable.
The personal toll that the last 17 months has taken on me and my family has finally become too much. The attacks I have endured are unacceptable and unwarranted. This did not start yesterday. It began over a year ago. My husband, myself and my children have experienced negative backlash in small and large ways because of my strong stances on public health and anti-racism.
Over the last 48 hours I have received DOZENS of harassing emails, phone calls and text messages. I must prioritize my mental health over this continued abuse, especially when I cannot defend myself or stand up for what I believe in.
I have been targeted by a few individuals and I fear that they will continue to escalate this according to a playbook being followed around the United States. I want to remove myself from the situation, as the longer this goes on, the more you are all distracted from the incredibly important tasks ahead, and the more ineffective I become in my role.
I will work in whatever capacity you all would like to help transition the committees I chair and my notes from the last Board meeting. You will just need to let me know how and if you would like me to assist with the transition.
I admire you all deeply and I hope you know that this decision weighs very heavily on my heart and will for some time. I will be supporting you as a member of the public and fellow parent.
I will continue to advocate for children in the most important ways. I hope that NPA will continue to make every decision student-centered, just as I am doing now.
As of press time for this report, Zeller’s social media pages and all posts relevant to this and other related reports have been either removed or made private.