Ms. Center, an avid social media user who has long used her accounts to document her luxurious lifestyle, took effective control of the school last year, in the midst of a pandemic. She told the community that the school, with a kindergarten up to eighth grade, would focus on “happiness” and support “medical freedom.”
But interviews with 21 current and former parents and teachers, as well as a review of social media posts and school documents, emails, text messages and videos, show how the wealthy and well-connected Ms. Center brought her anti-vaccination and anti-vaccination. -masking views on the daily life of the school, turning what was a community to be bitterly divided between those who support its views on vaccinations and those who do not.
“Every afternoon I have to explain things to my child when he comes home and says, ‘How does the school say that what you are saying is not right?’ “Said Iris Acosta-Zobel, referring to the importance she attaches to home masking and vaccinations. She took her daughter out of school on Friday.
David J. Center, a former highway power entrepreneur and co-founder of the school in the current iteration with his wife, said in written answers to questions that the school listens to families. “We have met with more than 70 parents and we are pleased that so many families continue to support our mission and trust us with their children,” he said.
Sarah Dagan, who has four children at school, said she was not concerned about the controversy. “Everything was blown disproportionately,” she said. “It’s convenient for me to keep the vaccine. My main concern is the happiness of the children. “
Most people interviewed for this article requested anonymity to protect their children or their employment. Some former parents and teachers said they feared retaliation if they spoke in public. Others declined to comment because the school forced them to sign non-disclosure agreements.
The anti-vaccination policy requires recently vaccinated teachers to keep their distance from students – Ms. Center told teachers not to hug children, for example. This caused such madness that a reporter asked about it during a briefing at the White House. (The school received $ 804,375 from the federal payroll program during the pandemic.) Jen Psaki, a spokeswoman, noted that the public health guidelines strongly promote coronavirus vaccines and aim to keep people safe.