Attorney Gerard McCloskey speaks about his client, former Herricks teacher Laura Parker Russo, and the plea deal she received for allegedly giving a COVID-19 vaccine to a teen boy without a parent's permission. Credit: Newsday/Howard Schnapp

A former Herricks High School science teacher, charged with injecting a 17-year-old friend of her son with the COVID-19 vaccine at her home last year without his parent’s permission, will avoid jail time as part of a plea deal with Nassau prosecutors.

Laura Parker Russo, 55, pleaded guilty Friday in Nassau Supreme Court in Mineola to a misdemeanor count of attempted unauthorized practice of medicine and a disorderly conduct violation. Prosecutors agreed to drop a felony charge of unauthorized practice of medicine.

Judge Howard Sturim placed Russo on 1 year of interim probation where she must complete 100 hours of community service, attend twice-weekly therapy sessions and have no contact with the teen. Sturim rejected a deal from prosecutors that would have allowed Russo to perform 50 hours of community service.

If Russo completes her interim probation, prosecutors will vacate the misdemeanor charge and sentence her to a conditional discharge on the disorderly conduct count, along with a $250 fine. Her record will not be sealed.

WHAT TO KNOW

  • Laura Parker Russo, a former Herricks High School science teacher, will avoid jail time as part of a plea deal for injecting the 17-year-old friend of her son with the COVID-19 vaccine at her home last year without his parent’s permission
  • Russo pleaded guilty Friday to a misdemeanor count of attempted unauthorized practice of medicine and a disorderly conduct violation.
  • She was sentenced to one year of interim probation where she must complete 100 hours of community service, attend therapy sessions and have no contact with the teen. 

“Based on the defendant’s long-standing ties to the community and her lack of a criminal record, the [Nassau County district attorney] has agreed to this disposition," said Brendan Brosh, a spokesman for the office.

Russo sparked outrage when a video of her injecting the vaccine into the arm of the teen inside her Sea Cliff home last New Year's Eve was widely shared on TikTok.

She left court Friday without speaking to reporters.

Russo's defense attorney, Gerard McCloskey, of Mineola, said the plea deal allows his client, who had never previously been arrested, the chance to have a clean criminal record.

The past year has "been difficult on her family," McCloskey said after the hearing. " … This plea allows her to move on."

Former Herricks High School teacher Laura Parker Russo in Nassau Supreme...

Former Herricks High School teacher Laura Parker Russo in Nassau Supreme Court in Mineola on Friday. Credit: Howard Schnapp

The teen's mother, Lisa Doyle, of Glen Cove, said she was conflicted about the deal.

"I've known her for almost 20 years," Doyle said. "I don't think she understands that what she did was not right. Do I think she needs required jail time? I'm very mixed on that one. … But I'm glad it's over."

Doyle previously said her son didn’t feel well after the injection, suffered mental anguish and embarrassment, and changed schools in his final semester of high school.

In a statement to Newsday last month, Russo said she obtained the Johnson & Johnson vaccine dose on Dec. 31 while getting her son a booster shot at a Sea Cliff pharmacy.

Russo said she asked the pharmacist for an empty vial to bring home to use as an ornament on her Christmas tree. Instead, she said, the pharmacist gave her a vial with four extra doses that were going to be discarded. Neither the pharmacist nor the pharmacy has been identified.

Doyle called police after her son told her about the shot and Nassau police arrested Russo on Jan. 1, charging her with unauthorized practice of a profession, a felony. She faced a maximum of 1 1/3 to 4 years in prison if convicted of the felony.

A state arbitrator last month sided with the Herricks school district that Russo's actions constituted “misconduct” and “conduct unbecoming a teacher,” under state education law. The Herricks school board voted to terminate Russo, who had been a teacher for nearly 25 years. She is currently unemployed.

“Clearly, I should not have administered the J&J vaccine to anyone when I returned home with the vial containing four viable doses, but my son’s friend said he was not vaccinated and wanted to be vaccinated," Russo said in the statement, adding that she has experience giving shots to family members with illnesses and chronic conditions. "I thought he was 18, and I did not know that the J&J vaccination had not been approved for persons under 18. What I did was an egregious lapse of judgment that I deeply regret, but I did it to help a young man not to harm him."

According to the arbitrator’s report, the video showed Russo smiling while injecting the boy with the vaccine and saying, “You’ll be fine, I hope.”

Russo has said she smiled to put the boy at ease during the injection and that the comment was meant to be lighthearted.

She's due back in court Feb. 17.

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