MIAMI — A controversial private school that garnered attention in April after announcing that teachers and staff who chose to get vaccinated for COVID-19 could not interact with students and would run the risk of losing their job has now discouraged parents from getting their children vaccinated.
Last week, administrators at the Centner Academy, a nearly 300-student school from Pre-K to eighth grade with three campuses in the Miami Design District and Wynwood, notified parents they’d have to keep their children home for 30 days if they receive the vaccination — or preferably wait until the summer.
In the letter sent to parents, the school says the 30-day period will allow time so that a vaccinated student couldn’t transmit anything to other children, promoting false claims about COVID vaccines.
The story, first reported by WSVN7 Friday, has outraged public-health experts battling the coronavirus, which has killed more than 700,000 people in the United States.
“It is very dangerous, I think, to be broadcasting something that is not based on any fact,” said Mary Jo Trepka, an infectious disease epidemiologist and professor at Florida International University. “It has the potential of scaring some people who would have otherwise gotten vaccinated into not getting it.”
Trepka said none of the three COVID-19 vaccines authorized in the United States contain any live virus and anyone who receives a COVID vaccine “is not infectious.”
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has reviewed extensive clinical trial data and found the three coronavirus vaccines — made by Moderna, Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer-BioNTech — are safe and highly effective in protecting people against the deadly coronavirus.
“It is impossible for somebody who has been vaccinated to pose any risk to another person,” Trepka said, adding that the 30-day period is not based on anything scientific.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “millions of people in the United States have received COVID-19 vaccines under the most intense safety monitoring in U.S. history.”
In the United States, slightly more than 189 million people — or 57 percent of the total eligible U.S. population — have completed the two-dose series of either the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines or have completed Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose vaccine, according to the CDC’s Monday report. In Florida, about 12.7 million eligible Floridians — 58.9 percent of the state’s population — are fully vaccinated, Monday’s data showed.
In Miami-Dade, about 2,023,293 people, or 74.5 percent of the county’s total population, are fully vaccinated. When reached via email Monday afternoon, David Centner, who founded the school with his wife, Leila Centner, in 2019, said they instituted the policy “as a prudent precautionary measure after much thoughtful deliberation.”
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He said “several parents” on the school’s Parent Advisory Board raised concerns over how vaccinated kids could impact fellow students and others. He said “school leadership does not believe that one who is vaccinated can infect another person with COVID,” but added “the school is not opining on whether a vaccinated person can negatively impact others.”
He mentioned “anecdotal reports” and said that, “until there are definitive and scientifically proven studies that refute these reports, we need to do what is best for our students and staff.”
He said no one has withdrawn from the school as a result of the policy.
Josh Hills, director of the academy’s Learning Optimization program and who has two daughters at the school, said he supported the move.
“I am in favor of any policies that put the safety of my children first and foremost,” he said.
The Centners moved to a Miami Beach penthouse condo after selling their New York-based company, Highway Toll Administration, to a billion-dollar private equity firm in 2018. They contributed $1 million to President Donald Trump’s re-election fund, and contributed tens of thousands to Gov. Ron DeSantis and local Republicans and Democrats.
One parent who had a first-grader at the school in the spring, Greg Tatar, told the Herald then that Leila Centner “was always talking about doctors that seemed fringey. And there were all these weird emails: Are masks really good for youth’s mental progress?” he said.
“They screamed Republican, Trump, anti-COVID. All the weird news that you would see between 8 p.m. and 11 p.m. on Fox,” he told the Herald.
The Centners said they started their school because they said they couldn’t find a suitable one in South Florida for their young daughters.
“Tour after tour after tour, none of this is really doing it for me,” Leila Centner told the Herald in 2019.
David Centner said the school had already put in place a similar vaccine policy for the older students at the beginning of the school year, but because health experts have started considering the vaccine for younger children, administrators decided to expand it to all Centner students.
Currently, children 12 years and older are eligible to get the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. The CDC recommends the vaccine for everyone 12 and older.
Over the next few weeks, federal officials plan to discuss making the COVID vaccine available to children between the ages of 5 and 11. Children can become infected with the coronavirus and spread it to others.
On the internet, some users have ramped up misinformation about the COVID-19 vaccine, including myths about “vaccine shedding,” the term for the release of a virus outside the body.
Leila Centner has pedaled some of the conspiracy theories on what appears to be her personal Instagram. Her account links to a Telegram group with about 2,500 members that regularly share inaccurate and misleading information.
In the account @leilacentner3, she shared a video Sept. 19 of someone asking a kid who’s crying to wear a mask and called it “child abuse.”
On Sept. 10, she shared a video of President Biden announcing he would require small businesses to ensure vaccination, and, in the caption, she wrote, “I have over 100 employees and I will NEVER EVER comply!!”
- Jimena Tavel, Carli Teproff and Jesse Lieberman
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