MIAMI — Even for a city with a storied history of deep-pocketed scam artists who swoop in and dazzle the powers-that-be, the quackery at Centner Academy stands out.
A two-campus private school for the children of downtown and midtown hipsters who can afford $30,000 tuition, the academy is steeped in scandal over the revelation that co-founder and leader Leila Centner is a rabid anti-vaxxer.
The wealthy "educator" doesn't want her teachers vaccinated and turning into monsters who, just by their mere presence, are capable of hurting the children she's grooming to be "leaders with heart." (The academy provides a "mindfulness coach.")
In her world of false claims, it's not the coronavirus that gives children the cooties. It's the adults getting a vaccine.
She's Florida Woman right here.
We are still in the middle of a pandemic that has claimed more than half a million American lives — and, in Florida, Miami is its epicenter. Vaccination is our only return ticket to some kind of normalcy.
But Leila Centner imparts knowledge through her touchy-feely New Age-branded bubble.
A fast-spreading deadly disease isn't going to interrupt the observance of core values like "medical freedom from mandated vaccines" in "the first happiness school in the U.S. based in Miami," as her public-relations agency bills the academy, which runs from pre-K through middle school.
Happiness, apparently, doesn't include following the science. And the "emotional intelligence" the curriculum is supposed to develop in children doesn't apply to Centner 's views of vaccination.
She announced to teachers in a Zoom call that they will no longer have a job at Centner if they vaccinate.
If they vaccinated before her April 22 admonition, they may not hug children for 30-90 days, when "the nasty stuff happens," according to her. But, she adds, don't keep the CDC-recommended six feet of distance from children or they'll believe they're no longer liked by the teacher.
It's all gobbledygook and has no scientific basis whatsoever.
But guru Leila, who with her husband, David, launched the school in 2019, gets her coronavirus information from the internet, where she says thousands share stories of vaccine horrors. In other words, she hangs on every word delivered by debunked conspiracy theorists, good ol' American lunatics, and Russian bots.
In case teachers are skeptical of her internet research prowess, Centner offers local lore.
She says a Miami woman she knows developed terrible headaches from spending time with her vaccinated parents. (LOL emoji here. Who doesn't get a stress headache around parents, even without COVID?).
The woman, she claims, also developed as a result of the contact with her vaccinated parents, an excessively bloody menstrual period two weeks early. This is a common occurrence for peri- and menopausal women and can also be caused by endometriosis. Normal life stuff.
The controversy, first reported by the New York Times and getting weirder by the minute, says a lot about the questionable state of Florida's private education industry.
Centner exemplifies the perils of unregulated education without proper oversight.
In Florida, just about anyone who isn't a registered pervert, can open a private school.
It's a two-step process, the Florida Department of Education website instructs.
— Establish the school, profit or nonprofit, the business-happy state doesn't care. If for-profit, follow the normal course of occupational licensing to set up a business. It's like selling burgers. Likewise for a non-profit, the setup's the same if molding children or advocating for turtles.
— Register with the Department of Education, report student enrollment by grade and answer a survey every year, sent to the state notarized. Voila, this lands the new entity on a registry of private schools, lending a measure of credibility the schools haven't earned.
Lawmakers in Tallahassee work hard every session to fund the expansion of the private-school industry. They throw at it public money that belongs in public schools available to all. This session has been no different.
The goal: indoctrinating children the Republican way ,without the interference of pesky issues like truth, science and the separation of church and state.
Leila and David Centner are GOP royalty.
They donated more than $1 million in campaign contributions to Republican committees and candidates in 2020, including President Donald Trump.
The GOP establishment, in turn, has their back.
Gov. Ron DeSantis — with the support of Trumplicans in the Legislature — does everything in his power to issue edicts, policies and legislation that go against the knowledge and experience of scientists and health experts.
But during the last days of the Legislature, lawmakers rejected forbidding schools from banning vaccinated teachers.
Centner personifies the voter for whom the governor and his party exist. Charlatanism, even in the form of a debatable education for some 300 Miami children, is welcome as long as those doing the talking echo the party line, donate and recruit others.
Just don't equate vaccine hesitancy with the monetary gains to be made in the time of COVID-19.
Centner may be really dumb when it comes to vaccines, but she's really smart when it comes to collecting the spoils of the pandemic: taxpayer funds.
Her school made out with a forgivable federal PPP loan of $804,375 in 2020.
Not a bad deal: You take in $800,000 in taxpayer dollars and donate to the GOP $1 million to win elections in 21 states, including Florida.
Who ultimately pays for the anti-vaccine rants of Centner Academy's co-founder?
Taxpayers, teachers who must trade in their health for a job and kids fed lies in the name of choice.