A previous version of this story misstated the percentage of Americans who have received at least one coronavirus vaccine dose. About 66 percent of Americans have gotten at least one dose. The story has been corrected.
The email from Centner Academy leadership, first reported by WSVN, repeated misleading and false claims that vaccinated people could pass on so-called harmful effects of the shot and have a “potential impact” on unvaccinated students and staff.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has debunked claims that the coronavirus vaccine can “shed or release any of their components” through the air or skin contact. The coronavirus vaccines do not contain a live virus, so their components can’t be transmitted to others.
David Centner, one of the school’s co-founders, repeated the debunked claims in a statement to The Washington Post, saying the policy is a “precautionary measure” based on “numerous anecdotal cases that have been in circulation.”
“The school is not opining as to whether unexplained phenomena have a basis in fact, however we prefer to err on the side of caution when making decisions that impact the health of the school community,” Centner said.
Despite the Food and Drug Administration’s evidence that coronavirus vaccines are safe and highly effective, vaccine misinformation online has been a top hurdle for the White House and public health experts when persuading people to get the shots. Almost 219 million Americans have received at least one vaccine dose, which is about 66 percent of the population, according to The Post’s vaccination tracker.
In July, President Biden excoriated social media companies, accusing them of “killing people” by failing to regulate misinformation about the vaccines on their platforms. In August, Facebook released data that showed the most popular piece of content from January through March was a link to an article that cast doubt on the vaccine. Last Wednesday, attorneys generals from 14 states sent a letter to Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, inquiring if the company provided special treatment to those disseminating vaccine falsehoods on the platform.
Unfounded claims about masks and vaccines have trickled down to schools, where students under 12 years old remain at a higher risk of contracting the virus since they are ineligible for the vaccines.
Tensions between parents and school districts have also grown violent at times. In August, a parent at an Austin school ripped a mask off a teacher’s face. A week later, police said the father of a Fort Lauderdale, Fla., high-schooler assaulted another student after she confronted him about trying to bring his daughter onto campus without a mask. He was arrested and charged with child abuse without great bodily harm.
Centner Academy is in Miami’s ritzy Design District, and tuition ranges from about $15,000 to nearly $30,000 per year. The school has become a haven for anti-vaccine parents because it does not require any immunizations for enrollment, citing a parent’s “freedom of choice” and falsely claiming there are “unknown risks associated with vaccinations” that could harm children.
A similar sentiment was shared in an email to parents last week regarding the coronavirus vaccine. School leadership referred to the shots as “experimental,” WSVN reported, and encouraged parents considering vaccinations for their child to wait several more months until the school year ends.
“We ask that you hold off until the summer when there will be time for the potential transmission or shedding onto others to decrease,” Centner Academy leaders wrote.
The school has a history of spreading inaccurate information about the vaccine and penalizing those who choose to get the shots. In April, Centner Academy employees were told they had to notify Leila and David Centner, the married co-founders of the school, if they received a vaccine. Vaccinated school employees were told they would not be allowed any contact with students “until more information is known” about the vaccines. School leaders also told those wanting the vaccine to wait until the summer to get the shots.
About a week later, a math and science teacher told students they should not hug their vaccinated parents for more than five seconds, the New York Times reported, referencing the same falsehoods the school communicated in its email about vaccine components “shedding” onto others. Some parents threatened to pull their children out of the school over the comments.
Leila Centner has also spread anti-vaccine information during a meeting with parents and staff, and in a WhatsApp group with community members, according to the Times. In late January, Leila and David Centner invited outspoken anti-vaccine advocate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. to speak at the school.
The co-founders also discouraged teachers from wearing masks, the Times reported. When state health department officials visited for routine dining inspections, teachers were allegedly told in a WhatsApp group to put on masks. The school also allegedly provided parents with mask exemption forms for their children.
In his statement to The Post, David Centner said the school’s policies are made as a “prudent precautionary measure.”
“Our top priorities have always been our students’ well-being and their sense of safety within our educational environment,” he said.
Coronavirus: What you need to know
The latest: The CDC has loosened many of its recommendations for battling the coronavirus, a strategic shift that puts more of the onus on individuals, rather than on schools, businesses and other institutions, to limit viral spread.
Variants: BA.5 is the most recent omicron subvariant, and it’s quickly become the dominant strain in the U.S. Here’s what to know about it, and why vaccines may only offer limited protection.
Vaccines: For people under 50, second booster doses are on hold while the Biden administration works to roll out shots specifically targeting the omicron subvariants this fall. Immunizations for children under 5 became available this summer. Here’s what to know about how vaccine efficacy could be affected by your prior infections and booster history.
Guidance: CDC guidelines have been confusing — if you get covid, here’s how to tell when you’re no longer contagious. We’ve also created a guide to help you decide when to keep wearing face coverings.
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