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Miami private school co-founder tells vaccinated employees in Zoom call she’s ‘not OK’ with them

During the call, she made several disputed or false claims about the COVID-19 vaccine, such as there being a 30- to 60-day period when serious side effects occur.
A security guard walks the perimeter of the Centner Academy, Tuesday, April 27, 2021, in Miami. The private school founded by an anti-vaccination activist in South Florida has warned teachers and staff against taking the COVID-19 vaccine. The Centner Academy sent parents a letter informing them of a new policy against employing anyone who has had the shots.
A security guard walks the perimeter of the Centner Academy, Tuesday, April 27, 2021, in Miami. The private school founded by an anti-vaccination activist in South Florida has warned teachers and staff against taking the COVID-19 vaccine. The Centner Academy sent parents a letter informing them of a new policy against employing anyone who has had the shots. [ MARTA LAVANDIER | AP ]
Published Apr. 29
Updated Apr. 29

Days before a Miami private school wrote an email to its employees saying it wouldn’t employ people who had been vaccinated against COVID-19, the school’s co-founder held a video conference call with faculty and staff saying she was “not OK” with people who had received the vaccine working at the school.

“Today and going forward, [to people] considering getting the vaccine, I’m not OK with you being at this school,” Leila Centner, who co-founded the school with her husband, David, told employees during the call. “I’m not comfortable with you being around kids.”

Centner, 44, held the mandatory call last week to announce and explain the school’s new vaccination policy, which public health experts have denounced as spreading misinformation about COVID-19, a virus that has infected more than 32 million people in the United States and killed more than 573,000, according to Wednesday’s case numbers from the New York Times database.

As of Wednesday’s report from the Florida Department of Health, Miami-Dade County has recorded 481,397 COVID-19 cases and 6,140 deaths. Nearly 800,000 people in the county have been completely vaccinated.

Centner Academy did not respond to an email Wednesday afternoon from the Herald seeking comment about the video conference call. In an email to the Herald sent on Wednesday morning, the school wrote, “No employees have resigned as a result of this policy. Zero.”

In an email sent to employees Monday, Centner Academy, a private school from Pre-K to fifth grade the couple founded in 2019 with campuses in the Miami Design District and Edgewater, said it won’t employ people who’ve been vaccinated. The New York Times first reported about the email.

During the call, Centner made several disputed or false claims about the COVID-19 vaccine, such as there being a 30- to 60-day period when serious side effects occur.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said common side effects to the vaccines include pain, redness and swelling in the arm that received the shot, and fatigue, chills, nausea and headaches. The CDC has said these side effects should go away in a few days and some people will have no side effects.

At one point during the call, Centner read to the staff a story she said came from a woman who said she had severe side effects after her parents got the vaccine.

The unidentified woman, Centner told the group, had written a message to her saying she would get “severe headaches” while being around her vaccinated mother for an extended amount of time.

Centner followed these claims by saying she spoke with three doctors who are “heavily researching the COVID-19 vaccine.”

“There is enough information to note that there is an issue,” said Centner, who did not identify the doctors’ names in the video call. “Because whoever is taking [the vaccine] is part of the experiment, I can’t allow us and the kids to be part of that experiment.”

The Food and Drug Administration, after reviewing test results of U.S. clinical trials conducted by the vaccine manufacturers, authorized emergency use for the three vaccines being administered in the United States: Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson Janssen. The FDA found the vaccines to be highly effective and safe.

According to the CDC, clinical trials have demonstrated that the Pfizer vaccine is 95% effective, the Moderna vaccine is 94.1% effective and the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is 66.3% effective.

Earlier this month, the FDA and CDC temporarily paused the J&J vaccine after rare blood clots were reported in six cases among more than 7 million doses administered. The FDA and CDC lifted the hold last Friday, saying the benefits of the vaccine substantially outweighed the risks. In all, 15 cases of the clots were reported and three deaths.

Centner told staff during the call that if they had received the vaccine in the past, they should refrain from “hugging” the students.

“...I have to draw the line in the sand today,” Centner told the employees on the call. “If you want to get it, this is not going to be the right school for you.”

Centner Academy was incorporated in 2018, state records show. The school has about 300 students and charges $30,000 a year in tuition for middle school, according to information on its website, centneracademy.com.