Trustees stand behind Los Gatos superintendent in COVID-19 vaccine scandal
Los Gatos Union School District Superintendent Paul Johnson addresses the Good Samaritan vaccine scandal that has unfolded since Jan. 22.

Los Gatos Union School District trustees are backing the district’s superintendent almost a week after he came under fire for encouraging teachers to skip the line for COVID-19 vaccines by pretending to be health care workers.

“I firmly believe teachers are essential workers and that we should be vaccinating them all as soon as possible,” said trustee Courtney Monk.

As first reported by San José Spotlight last week, at the behest of the hospital’s chief operating officer, Los Gatos teachers and staff were encouraged to register for a COVID-19 vaccine at Good Samaritan ahead of more vulnerable populations.

Trustee Daniel Snyder choked back tears as he defended Johnson and talked about how difficult the pandemic has been.

“Paul is one of the the most ethical, honest people I’ve ever known in my life,” Snyder said. “For information to come out from a hospital provider that you’re eligible, it’s totally rational to think that it’s on the up and up. I think that if it was known Good Samaritan was not doing the right thing … it never would have been accepted.”

Johnson claimed his staff was not attempting to jump the line for vaccines.

“I want to set the record straight on a few points. The first point: the media misrepresented that the district somehow plotted to skip ahead in line,” Johnson said. “Simply not true. Good Samaritan offered vaccinations to teachers and staff of the district which the district accepted in good faith.”

Good Samaritan CEO Joe De Schryver said no disciplinary action had been taken against the hospital’s COO, Gary Purushotham, who apparently instructed Johnson to allow teachers to register for vaccines as health care workers, according to an email obtained by San José Spotlight.

“As a learning organization, we will use the insights from this entire process to further strengthen our commitment to our mission,” DeSchryver said.

Santa Clara County COVID-19 Testing Officer Dr. Marty Fenstersheib said last week the county would not give Good Samaritan any more vaccine doses until it could provide a plan and prove the hospital would follow state and county guidelines in the future.

“Good Samaritan’s actions are inconsistent with both the letter and spirit of the State’s direction on vaccine eligibility,” Fenstersheib wrote.

The Santa Clara County District Attorney’s office confirmed it is “looking into” the incident.

Pressure to reopen schools

Good Samaritan confirmed the hospital had made an error by administering vaccines to about 65 Los Gatos district staff, Johnson said. Employees were notified the following day and asked to cancel their appointments if they had not been vaccinated already.

Part of the urgency for vaccinating Los Gatos teachers is pressure from parents to reopen schools and return to in-person learning.

The district has been gearing up for months to partially reopen its schools to students, holding near-weekly meetings for months to discuss local COVID-19 case rates and crafting safety plans for students, teachers and staff.

Board members and administrators face scrutiny from parents for keeping schools closed, citing their children’s poor performance with distance learning, as well as declining student mental health.

Board members and staff from Los Gatos Union School District listened to public comment and discussed the Good Samaritan vaccine scandal that had unfolded since Jan. 22.

Many parents supported Johnson’s move to get teachers vaccinated at Good Samaritan, even though it’s not yet their turn.

“The vaccine rollout has been a total mess of the federal, state and county levels, some of which have conflicting dictums,” said Dr. Ben Cortez, a father of two children at Blossom Hill Elementary School. “As a health care provider in a large system, I know that it is unfortunate reality every day some COVID vaccine goes to waste.”

It would have taken too long to reach other eligible populations, he added.

Another parent, Amanda Jacobs, also voiced her support.

“Good Samaritan did what they thought was right,” Jacobs said. “They offered spare vaccines to local teachers. I absolutely agree that teachers and staff that are willing to return to school should be prioritized for the (COVID-19) vaccine.”

Some speakers said other California counties are already vaccinating teachers, including Marin County, though Santa Clara County has not yet opened eligibility up to educators.

Lost faith and trust

Others weren’t as happy with the district’s actions, though they were in the minority.

Mark Rainer, a parent of students at Los Gatos’ Lexington Elementary School, is concerned that teachers had to lie and say they’re health care workers under penalty of perjury.

“If Lexington parents falsify documents or statements pertaining to our physical address, Los Gatos school district would have no problem removing us from the district,” Rainer said. “Shouldn’t district policy of falsifying documents and statements of being health care workers likewise extend to teachers and administrators?”

Others accused the board of capitulating to a faction of vocal parents who want their children to go back to school, and said the vaccine scandal is tied to that effort.

“The board has lost the faith and trust of many Fisher teachers,” said Fisher Middle School teacher Heather Keating. “Once the pandemic is over and the dust is settled, we will remember how we were regarded as nothing more than pawns in a nasty political game of chess. Sadly you’ve also lost the faith and trust of the very community group you’re trying to please.”

Contact Madelyn Reese at [email protected] or follow @MadelynGReese on Twitter.

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