Republican State Sen. Manny Diaz Says Centner Academy’s Stance On COVID Vaccine Is ‘Dangerous’

CBS4's Jim DeFede spoke one-on-one with Diaz, the leading proponent of vouchers and private schools in the state legislature.

Video Transcript

- Now at 5:00, new reaction after the Centner Academy in Miami gave their staff an ultimatum. If you want to work there, do not get vaccinated against COVID-19. CBS 4's Jim DeFede joins us now. And Jim, you spoke to one of the leading republicans in the legislature about what's happening.

JIM DEFEDE: I did. Manny Diaz, state Senator Manny Diaz, who represents the area around Hialeah is considered the state senate's expert when it comes to education, particularly on the issue of vouchers, and private schools. He works for a company that is a private school company. So he's one of these figures that we've been wanting to hear what he thinks about when it comes to the Centner Academy. And we were able to catch up with him this morning. And here's that conversation.

MANNY DIAZ: I found the letter and the stance pretty ridiculous to be honest with you. And I don't understand it.

JIM DEFEDE: Republican State Senator Manny Diaz is the leading proponent of vouchers and private schools in the state legislature. These are his first comments on the threats by a private school in Miami, the Centner Academy, to fire any teacher who gets the COVID-19 vaccine, a position the school's founder, Leila Centner, reiterated recently on video.

LEILA CENTNER: Today or going forward that is considering getting the vaccine that I am not OK with you being in this school.

JIM DEFEDE: In letters to staff, teachers, and to the parents, Centner cited wild and debunked conspiracy theories to defend her decision. You said you found the letter ridiculous. Do you also find it dangerous?

MANNY DIAZ: Well, it is dangerous on different levels, Jim, because I think, again, going back to my original premise, which is I don't believe that we should have any of these places requiring a vaccine passport. We should not be asking people or requiring people that if they have taken a vaccine, they're excluded. So I do believe that that's a big concern. And it could be a danger on the healthcare side. Because if you have folks like that trying to dissuade people from taking a vaccine that's available, I think that could be a problem as well.

JIM DEFEDE: So you have a situation here where he says he's going to also reach out to the State Department of Education and State Department of Health, which raises the question, where is Florida's surgeon general on this issue? Why has he not spoken up? Well, legislators who have spoken to him today said that he's not going to be making any public comments, but rather will simply continue to encourage people to follow CDC protocols, which is not what the Centner Academy is doing.

- Jim, are we getting any sense of how people inside the school are reacting to all this attention?

JIM DEFEDE: They in fact sent a new letter out today to parents suggesting that the media has made this much bigger than it needs to be. But I also have talked to people in and around Leila Centner who says that she seems to be really enjoying the notoriety and the publicity. This is something that she has long wanted, a national platform for her ideas and views, as crazy to some as they may be. And I can tell you that she's now going to be the featured speaker at a open Florida mask-less event in Tampa coming up in a few weeks. And again, she'll probably be hailed as a hero at that type of gathering.

- Interesting update there. Jim DeFede, thanks so much for your insight.