Measure to protect teachers banned from vaccines by Miami school fails

Centner Academy meets with groups of parents Thursday

The controversy over a Miami private school that threatened to fire faculty who get a COVID-19 vaccine continues.

MIAMI – The fallout from the COVID-19 vaccine controversy at Miami’s Centner Academy continued Thursday, with the private school scheduling two meetings with parents and a state senator pushing unsuccessfully to help faculty who want to get a shot.

State Sen. Jason Pizzo, D-District 38, introduced an amendment Thursday to protect those who want to protect themselves with a vaccine.

“I’ll be filing an amendment today that actually addresses this,” said Pizzo, who represents northeast Miami-Dade County. “It actually precludes businesses, government agencies and educational institutions from forbidding people to get vaccines.”

The amendment was voted down in the state Senate, however.

Centner Academy made international headlines earlier in the week after it came out that co-founder and CEO Leila Centner threatened the jobs of teachers and staff if they got vaccines.

Then, a fifth-grade student emailed her mother Wednesday morning saying her math and science teacher “is telling us to stay away from you guys and not hug you guys more than 5 seconds. She is also saying that we should not get the COVID vaccine.”

Some parents were so distraught they went to school to remove their child Wednesday. Centner sent a note to parents apologizing for the situation, writing: “One teacher offered specific advice to students regarding the COVID-19 injection. We are appalled at this. It was against our policy and the teacher has recognized and acknowledged her mistake.”

Centner has expressed her anti-vaccine position on her social media.

And then in a letter to teachers, the school stated:

“If you make the decision to take this experimental drug after April 22, you will not be allowed to return to work at Centner Academy.”

“There are some cases being reported of unvaccinated women being impacted and having miscarriages by being around vaccinated women,” Centner said. “Now I know all of this sounds crazy...”

Infectious disease experts have blasted her views as unfounded and “completely irresponsible” — and Pizzo tried to get involved.

“It’s bizarre, and if it was just bizarre that would be OK,” he said. “But it’s actually quite dangerous and it goes against the well-accepted science.”

Pizzo introduced his amendment to an existing bill that is trying to prevent requiring vaccines with so-called “vaccine passports.”

“In Florida, you can get fired for protecting your health,” Pizzo said in a statement after it was voted down. “That’s the message my Republican colleagues sent when they failed to protect everyday Floridians from being discriminated against or fired for following CDC guidance and getting a COVID vaccine. I fought for children in my community who have been told not to hug their parents if they’ve been vaccinated, and for their teachers whose livelihoods have been threatened if they choose to get a shot for their own health and for the health of our state.”

Centner Academy has campuses in Miami’s Design District and Edgewater. Some parents have said they feel “stuck” because they’ve already paid tuition in full for their students, at around $25,000 a year.

Some parents who have pulled their children from the school had to sign non-disclosure agreements, promising not to speak about Centner, Local 10 learned Wednesday.

Other parents support Centner and the school administration.

“This is all blown out of proportion. Our administration is very amazing,” said parent Sara Dagan.

Another parent named Malena added: “[Centner] is not saying don’t get vaccinated at all, she’s just saying please hold and let’s wait and see.”

She’s among parents who support the school’s position on everything from its non-enforcement of masks to wellness.

“You had the option to wear a mask or not wear a mask, which was great for my daughter because my daughter was having horrible headaches,” Malena said.

WATCH MORE BELOW: Parents speak out in support of Centner

Many parents are backing the administration at Centner Academy, which made international headlines by threatening teachers with their jobs if they get COVID-19 vaccines.

About the Authors:

Amy Viteri is an Emmy Award-winning journalist who joined Local 10 News in September 2015. She's currently an investigative reporter and enjoys uncovering issues facing South Florida communities. A native of the Washington, D.C., area, she's happy to be back in South Florida, where she earned a masters degree at the University of Miami.