A Miami private school known for its aggressive stance against coronavirus vaccines is abandoning an attendance policy that would have forced students to stay home for 30 days after each dose.
Centner Academy reversed course less than two weeks after announcing the controversial policy, spurred by a letter from the Florida Department of Education warning that the pre-K-8 private school could lose state funding if it pursued the post-vaccination attendance plan.
Florida DOE Chancellor Jacob Olivera in an Oct. 21 letter to the school called the 30-day stay-at-home period an "unreasonable, unnecessary and unduly burdensome amount of time."
Centner responded the next day, saying the attendance plan was not put into place and confirmed to the state that the school would not pursue it. Centner simultaneously defended the scrapped policy, noting that it planned to have affected students rely on remote learning during their 30-day homebound period.
"Our decision not to enact the 30-day at-home quarantine was an easy one as no parents expressed interest in getting the coronavirus vaccine following the policy announcement," David Centner, who co-founded Centner Academy with his wife, Leila, told The Washington Post in a statement. Centner said it has the "full support" of families at its school, which enrolls 300 pre-K through eighth grade students.
Some of the most bitter battles over in-school mask mandates, vaccine policies and funding threats have played out in Florida ever since in-person learning broadly resumed around the U.S. this fall.
For Centner, its back-and-forth with the state's Department of Education is hardly the first time its controversial vaccine stance, fueled by misinformation and debunked claims, has made headlines.
Nestled in the Design District of Miami, tuition at Centner ranges just over $15,000 for part-time preschoolers and just under $30,000 for middle school students. On its website, Centner describes its approach to education as one that blends classroom instruction with wellness concepts like mind-body awareness and nutrition.
In the past year, the school has attracted attention for its position on vaccines, which Centner characterizes as carrying "unknown risks."
In April, Centner warned teachers against getting the coronavirus vaccine, saying they would be barred from the classroom if they did. The headline-grabbing policy relied on debunked misinformation and unproven anecdotes about non-vaccinated people suffering adverse health effects after interacting with people who were vaccinated.
The aborted attendance policy for vaccinated students similarly leaned on misleading and false claims that the coronavirus vaccine is "experimental" and those vaccinated against the coronavirus can "shed" the virus and make others sick.
Mobeen Rathore, a professor of pediatrics and the chief of Infectious Diseases and Immunology at the University of Florida College of Medicine in Jacksonville, said Centner's claims about coronavirus vaccine "shedding" are biological impossibilities.
"The vaccine that they're using right now has no active virus in it - just protein. It's a protein that's not even part of the virus," Rathore told The Washington Post.
While there are some vaccines, like those for shingles or chickenpox, that use a live but weakened form of the virus to trigger an immune response, the coronavirus vaccine does not.
Rathore also stressed that the messenger RNA technology that went into the coronavirus vaccine is not "experimental," and that tens of thousands of people participated in trials. Rathore said people may be confused by terms like a drug being "authorized for emergency use," as the Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Johnson and Johnson vaccines were. The Pfizer vaccine received full FDA authorization in August.
"And don't forget," he added. "The vaccines have now been given to millions and millions of people. What better proof do you need in the pudding?"
In the United States, more than 190.7 million people have been fully vaccinated, or roughly 57.4 percent of the eligible population, according to data tracked by The Post.
Rathore noted that no infectious-disease in human history has been controlled or eradicated by natural immunity; were that the case, he said, the polio and measles vaccines would have been unnecessary. Instead, they were crucial to initially eradicating the diseases.
"You're never getting out of this pandemic unless we vaccinate all people, including children, who make up such a significant part of the population," he said. "More than 6 million children have been infected since the begging of the pandemic - that's not a small number."
For parents of school-aged children, Rathore said his best advice is five words: "Make a date to vaccinate."