If the school sounds familiar to you, it’s likely because it got national attention in 2021 after making a policy to keep students who received a COVID-19 vaccine (or booster) shot to stay at home for 30 days, though that policy was later revoked and the school said no student was actually affected by the proposal.
Before students were eligible for the vaccine, the school also said teachers who got the vaccine wouldn’t be able to return to teach in the coming year, citing unproven claims and anti-vaccine rhetoric, as reported by CNN. To be clear, the concept of “vaccine shedding” in terms of COVID-19 is simply an anti-science, anti-vaccine talking point—it’s not rooted in real science relevant to any of the related vaccines.
You can see co-founder Leila Centner arguing her anti-science perspective, in which she claims she didn’t threaten anyone’s job if they got vaccinated… but that she wanted them to be cautious and know that their decision to get vaccinated might negatively impact people who aren’t vaccinated. (Yes, it’s mind-numbing.)
And if you think that’s just terrible phrasing and taken out of context, here’s another interview with Centner and her husband (who are, by the way, significant donors to the Republican party) citing the same concerns, in which she says an unvaccinated person who was near a fully vaccinated roommate experienced a late period and blood clots. Basically: anecdotal evidence and conspiracy theories.
Most recently, the school posted a statement to its website promising to combat “unprecedented censorship” and teach students “how to think” instead of “what” to think. The school suggests that subjects like COVID-19 and CRT are “hot topics” that are theoretical rather than factual. This feels like precisely the sort of framing that gives false credence to “devil’s advocate” discussions and debates about human rights (for example, lesson plans where students explain how they would “punish” enslaved people). This isn’t intellectual freedom or useful critical thinking skills or emapthy-building—it’s sick.
One section of the school’s website says it believes in “health freedom,” and suggests there is no “one size fits all to vaccines.” The statement then stresses it is abiding by state laws in Florida and letting parents opt-out of vaccines based on medical or religious reasons. The statement also brings up increased rates of diagnoses in things like asthma, diabetes, autism, and ADD as parallel to vaccines requirements. (Reminder: Vaccines don’t cause autism, and even if they did, anti-vaccine stances for this reason are inherently ableist.)
For some background on the school, as reported by NBC News, before the Centner Academy opened, the same building was actually used as a charter school, which some families had their students continue attending. Some parents who pulled their students from the school, however, claimed that they had to sign a non-disparaging agreement, which when pressed about by NBC, the Centners said happens on a case by case basis. The co-founders suggested that this is what happens in any business, which perhaps reinforces why education shouldn’t be a business, but I digress.
As parent Iris Acosta-Zobel told local Miami outlet Local 10 back in May, she made the decision to pull her seven-year-old from the school, alleging that some teachers didn’t wear face masks in the classroom and that at least one student was advised by a teacher to stay away from their vaccinated parents and avoid long hugs. Even still, other parents are keeping their kids enrolled in the school—which costs about $30,000 per year.
As reported by CBS 4 Miami back in April, State Sen. Jason Pizzo, who represents the school’s district, said its anti-vaccine stances were “absolute lunacy” and goes against what’s understood in the scientific community. The Democrat went on to say that essentially threatening people’s jobs because they’re vaccinated or to “make up” ideas about some “unnamed disease” being transmitted via the vaccine is “beyond bizarre.”
“Beyond bizarre” could be an accurate description for a lot of conservative talking points, but if we want our society to actually prosper, we need to work together to combat these dangerous ideas and help everyone see the light.