MAYFIELD — The Mayfield Central School District is denying allegations made by U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik and Mayfield Mayor Jamie Ward that opinions expressed on social media had anything to do with the district’s decision to place a pre-K teacher on paid administrative leave.
In answer to a request from this newspaper for an interview with Mayfield Superintendent Christopher Harper, which has not yet been granted, district spokesperson Betsy DeMars in an email provided the MCSD’s most comprehensive denial of Stefanik and Ward’s allegations so far.
“And while we will continue to protect the privacy of our employees by not commenting specifically on personnel matters, it should be noted that the district would not put someone on administrative leave for posting their personal opinion about the mask mandate on social media,” reads DeMars statement.
DeMars’ statement indicated the MCSD doesn’t intend to release any more information about the controversy.
“With that said, we are asking members of the public and the press to allow the process to reach its natural conclusion,” she wrote. “We have no plans to share any additional information associated with this matter.”
The controversy over the status of the Mayfield Pre-K teacher has been covered by many news media outlets in the Capital Region, but few facts about the story have been definitively confirmed and no public statements have been made by the teacher herself.
Last week Stefanik and Ward issued social media statements claiming the Mayfield Central School District had either wrongfully “fired”, “terminated” and/or placed on “administrative leave”, the Mayfield Pre-K teacher for allegedly sharing — or perhaps commenting on — a Stefanik social post criticizing Gov. Kathy Hochul’s mask mandates for school districts.
Stefanik’s statement on the controversy, issued Saturday Jan. 29, claimed the congresswoman decided to wade into the controversy when on Friday Jan. 28, “numerous constituents” brought the issue to her attention. She claimed the reason the Pre-K teacher was put on administrative leave was that she had shared a Stefanik Facebook post to her personal, private Facebook page, but offered no evidence supporting her allegation and provided no name for the Pre-K teacher.
In her statement Stefanik called for the teacher to be reinstated and called for the “resignation of any and all Administrators who made this wrongful determination.”
There appears to have been two different versions of Stefanik’s Jan. 29 statement on the Pre-K teacher controversy, both posted at different times to her Facebook page. This newspaper observed Saturday and Sunday that each of the two versions of the statement appears to have been displayed at different times, one replacing the other, back and forth.
One version of the statement includes a headline, typed over a picture of a press release, that says “Statement on New York’s Wrongful Firing of Fulton County Pre-K Teacher Over Personal Facebook Post Regarding Hochul’s Mask Mandate.”
Another version of the post only includes the text of her statement, without the headline. Both statements are otherwise identical and include Stefanik characterizing the incident as the Pre-K teacher having been placed on “administrative leave.”
After Stefanik’s first social media post on the controversy, which included the headline, the Mayfield Central School District issued its own statement refuting her, specifically stating the “Wrongful Firing” referenced in her headline was false and that no teacher had been fired. The district characterized the rest of her statement as “misleading and inaccurate” and has since confirmed the Pre-K teacher is on paid administrative leave.
This newspaper on Sunday sent an email to Stefanik’s staff asking whether or not she intends to take down the refuted headline version of the statement, and asking why her Facebook page appears to vacillate at different times between showing the headline version of the statement and the one without it. In the email this newspaper provided screenshots showing the two different versions of the statement displayed at different times Sunday.
Stefanik’s statement with the false headline has 2,000 Facebook ‘likes’, 518 comments and 650 ‘shares’.
The version of the statement without the refuted headline has half as many ‘likes’ at 1,000, but almost twice as many comments at 1,000 and a similar number of ‘shares’ at 611.
Stefanik’s staff did not respond by the deadline of this story Sunday.
The source of nearly all of the information about the Mayfield controversy has come from Mayfield Mayor Jamie Ward.
In response to an inquiry from this newspaper last week seeking more information about the controversy, Stefanik’s staff provided a phone number to reach Ward, who granted an interview.
Ward claimed to have spoken to the Pre-K teacher and to have been told by her that she was put on administrative leave because of something she shared on Facebook and that school administrators had declined to specify what exactly triggered the suspension.
Ward claimed to have seen the Pre-K teacher’s Facebook page and said that it has since been deactivated. He said the name of the teacher is “Carey Lizzio”, but would not provide contact information for her, claiming she didn’t wish to provide a public comment.
On the Friday prior to Stefanik’s Jan. 29 statement Ward made a Facebook post using the social media platform’s “check-in” feature, to show that he was at Albany International Airport. The post included a picture of him wearing a mask and headphones sitting in a row of blue seats under a message that stated “Heading to Florida, meeting with Governor DeSantis’s Cabinet on Cybersecurity. I’m glad I left before the Bomb Cyclone hits, drive to the airport sucked this morning …”
After his interview with this newspaper last week Ward has since refused to provide further comment on the issue, but he did grant interviews to several news media outlets in the Capital Region over the course of last week, continuing to argue social media posts were central to why Lizzio was placed on paid administrative leave, but never providing any evidence to support the allegation besides having claimed to have spoken to her.
The Mayfield Central School District has never officially confirmed the Pre-K teacher’s name in any of its statements on the controversy, although the district has not denied that Carey Lizzio is her name.
“It has been, and continues to be, the district’s custom and practice not to comment on personnel matters,” reads DeMars’ most recent statement on the matter. “Regardless of the attention that this situation has attracted, we will not be treating this particular issue differently than any other personnel matter that has occurred or may occur in the future.”
In the days leading up to Stefanik’s post, Ward on his Facebook page had shared a social media post from a profile named “Erica Hime” detailing the allegation that “Mrs. Lizzio” had been punished for publishing her personal opinion about mask mandates in school on her private Facebook page. The Hime profile’s post on the issue included a phone number for Stefanik’s office and encouraged people to call her. The Hime profile also published email addresses for the Mayfield school board and encouraged people to email them with their concerns about the matter.
The Hime profile post shared by Ward references a “Carey A Liz” as the name for the Pre-K teacher. A google search of “Carey A Liz” indicates the name was used at one time for a Facebook profile, but the profile appears to have been deleted or deactivated.
The Erica Hime profile has not responded to messages from this newspaper requesting an interview or to requests asking for any evidence reinforcing her claims about Lizzio’s Facebook posts.
The mayfieldk12.com website, under the staff contacts tab, indicates the district’s Pre-Kindergarten program has two staff members, Michelle Bowers and Carey Lizzio. The email link to Lizzio’s name is [email protected], but emails sent to the address bounce back as undeliverable.
The Mayfield Central School District’s 2021-22 school budget includes a budge line of $26,936 budget for its Pre-K program, a 4.5% increase of $1,155 over the amount budgeted for the 2020-21 school budget. The district’s teacher salaries were included in different budget lines, $1.74 million for the elementary school and $2.1 million for the secondary school.