Did Centner Academy in Florida Bar Vaccinated Teachers?

The school's leaders purportedly sent an email to staff that was filled with false and debunked conspiracy theories about the safety of vaccines.

  • Published
On April 26, 2021, a private school in Miami, Florida emailed a letter to parents that singled out vaccinated teachers. Centner Academy, which opened in 2019, said in the email that one of its policies is to not employ anyone who has been vaccinated for COVID-19.
Image via ANGELA WEISS/AFP via Getty Images

Claim

A private school in Miami, Florida, sent a conspiracy theory-fueled email to parents saying its policy was to not employ anyone who was vaccinated for COVID-19.

Origin

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On April 26, 2021, a private school in Miami, Florida emailed a letter to parents that singled out vaccinated staff, including teachers, according to news reports. Centner Academy, which opened in 2019 and reportedly “charges almost $30,000 a year per student,” said in the email that one of its policies is to not employ anyone who has been vaccinated for COVID-19.

This was a true story. In fact, the Centner Academy website recently published an anti-vaccine news article on its website with the headline: “Medical Freedom from Mandated Vaccines.” The page contained false and misleading information about the safety and effectiveness of vaccines.

Jim DeFede, an investigative reporter with Miami’s CBS4, tweeted a copy of the letter that was sent to parents. The tweet was later removed, purportedly in violation of Twitter’s rules.

The letter was sent by school co-founder Leila Centner and followed a separate email sent to faculty and staff. The beginning of the email pushed a false and debunked conspiracy theory that claimed vaccinated individuals are dangerous to people who are unvaccinated. The Florida school also said that it has a policy that it would not employ teachers or other staff if they had received a vaccine:

It was an eventful week that also included an important meeting among our faculty and staff where we shared the difficult decision that moving forward, until further notice, we ask any employee who has not yet taken the experimental COVID-19 injection, to wait until the end of the school year. We also recommended that all faculty and staff hold off on taking the injection until there is further research available on whether this experimental drug is impacting unvaccinated individuals. It is our policy, to the extent possible, not to employ anyone who has taken the experimental COVID-19 injection until further information is known.

The email was filled with false and debunked conspiracy theories. For example, it claimed that no “solid research” exists on the efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines.

To be clear, COVID-19 vaccines went through rigorous testing and clinical trials. They have been deemed safe and effective by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The World Health Organization also said that the vaccines are both safe and effective.

In a CBS4 investigation, reporters said they were told that “one teacher has already resigned but it’s not clear if it was in direct result of this policy.”

The New York Times also reported that both of the school’s founders, including Leila Centner and her husband, David, “donated heavily to the Republican Party and the Trump reelection campaign, while giving much smaller sums to local Democrats.”

In February, the Centners welcomed a special guest to speak to students: Robert F. Kennedy Jr., the prominent antivaccine activist. (Mr. Kennedy was suspended from Instagram a few days later for promoting Covid-19 vaccine misinformation.)

This month, the school hosted a Zoom talk with Dr. Lawrence Palevsky, a New York pediatrician frequently cited by anti-vaccination activists.

We reached out to Centner Academy for a statement on the matter. A spokesperson emailed back and told us: “The health and safety of our students has, and remains, our #1 priority at Centner Academy, the first happiness school in the US which draws on the latest research in the fields of mindfulness, emotional intelligence and the science of happiness.”

The rest of the lengthy statement was filled with false and debunked conspiracy theories similar to those that were in the letter sent to parents.

In sum, it was true that an anti-vaccine school in Florida told parents that it had a policy to bar teachers and other staff from being employed if they had received a vaccine.