Controversy over Novato school superintendent getting vaccine at teacher event

Some members of the Novato Unified School District are furious that the superintendent was given the coronavirus vaccine before teachers in the classrooms.

On Jan. 17, Supt. Kris Cosca was vaccinated at the Marin Civic Center at a vaccination event sponsored by the school district and the county, and, the vaccine was given to more than 1,200 school district staff, including food workers and bus drivers. 

The vaccines were reserved for Tier 1 priority school workers, a category that includes custodians, food service workers, bus drivers and special education teachers. At the end of the day, when vaccines might get thrown out, anyone can get the doses. 

Towards the end of the event,  200 perishable vaccine doses were left, so, the doses were given to school superintendent Cosca and others.

Teacher union president said it isn't fair and that some managers appeared to cut in line. 

"There were other administrators who are not on-site with students who also were vaccinated this weekend and they walked right past teachers who were in line and then turned away," said Mariah Fisher, the president of the Novato Federation of Teachers.

But in a statement provided to KTVU, Cosca said he took advantage of the end-of-the-day extra vaccines that were being given out to anyone on a first-come, first-serve basis.

"Unfortunately, the first come first served policy has resulted in frustration and hurt feelings. I understand that and am saddened that the day we got the first 1,300 vaccinations into highest priority employees working in Marin County schools is overshadowed by this," he wrote. 

According to the Marin Independent Journal, there were 200 doses left at the end of the day. They had been left to thaw and they needed to be used by 4:30 p.m. or they would have to be thrown out. The county sent out a mass text to teachers and staff about hurrying in to get the extra doses. 

Cosa said he happened to be nearby, after returning some items to REI and going for a hike with his wife. He said they were just getting onto Highway 37 when he got the message about the vaccines. He turned around and drove to the vaccination site.

Cosca said he and other superintendents received a text message from Dr. Matt Willis, the county public health officer, and Mary Jane Burke, the county superintendent of schools. The message encouraged him and other superintendents to be vaccinated and to let their staff and teachers know about the extras. 

"Upon arriving at the vaccination clinic, I checked in with both Dr. Willis and Mary Jane Burke to ensure my eligibility for the vaccine," Cosca said in a written statement, according to the IJ. "Both assured me that, as someone working in education, I was eligible and was helping to ensure they did not go to waste. I received the vaccination. While I do not know everyone who was vaccinated with these extra doses (and will not speak to those who I do know as that is their personal medical information), I know that some of our classified staff, teaching staff, and administrative staff were also vaccinated."

At a Board of Supervisors meeting this week, Willis said that the county receives 5,000 to 7,000 coronavirus vaccines on average. Nearly 20,300 people, or close to 8% of Marin County’s population, have received at least one vaccination dose since December, according to the IJ.

As per direction from the governor's office, the state is now trying to make who gets vaccines more simplified. After this first round of vaccinations to health care workers, grocery store workers and teachers, people will not get vaccinated by occupation, but by age.

"I truly believe we did everything we could to ensure that our NUSD employees had the best chance to get the extra doses knowing that the location of the vaccination clinic made it difficult to unlikely," Cosca said in his email. "Please know that the last thing I expected when we drove to Marin County was that I would get a vaccination. I understand that this may be met with cynicism by some, but it is the simple truth and I can’t change it." 

KTVU's Debora Villalon and Lisa Fernandez contributed to this report.