State Watch

Judge rules against San Diego schools’ vaccine mandate

Associated Press/Matt Rourke

A judge ruled against a San Diego school district’s vaccine mandate for students, saying that school districts do not have the authority to implement inoculation requirements like the state legislature does.

The San Diego Unified School District announced in September that it would require all age-eligible students and staff to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by Dec. 20. Students aged 16 and older who were not inoculated by that date would not be allowed to participate in on-site education starting Jan. 24, but would instead be offered the chance to participate in an alternative education program, according to the district.

The anti-mask group Let Them Breathe filed a lawsuit against the district in October in an attempt to enjoin the state from enforcing the mandate for students ages 12 and older, asserting that the requirement violates the law.

San Diego Superior Court Judge John Meyer ruled in favor of the anti-mask group, determining that the vaccine requirement was in breach of state law. School staff, however, will still have to abide by the mandate.

Meyer ruled that the state legislature, not the school districts themselves, has the power to enforce a vaccine mandate for school attendance.

“The statutory scheme leaves no room for each of the over 1,000 individual school districts to impose a patchwork of additional vaccine mandates, including those like the [San Diego Unified vaccine] Roadmap that lack a personal belief exemption and therefore are even stricter than what the [state health department] could itself impose upon learned consideration,” Meyer wrote in a ruling, according to The San Diego Union-Tribune.

Meyer said that though the California legislature has granted the state public health department authority to mandate the COVID-19 vaccine for schools, with the requirement that allowances be made for personal belief exemptions, the body did not give school districts the same power.

Let Them Breathe Founder Sharon McKeeman expressed support for the judge’s decision.

“This decision that school districts do not have authority to require the COVID-19 vaccine echoes statewide, and it shows that parents coming together in a grassroots movement to uphold our children’s rights is powerful and effective,” she said in a statement, according to the Union-Tribune.

Mark Bresee, a lawyer for the San Diego school district, said the district is thinking about its legal options.

“The San Diego Unified School District is disappointed that [Meyer] concluded only the state can act regarding vaccinations, even though the law specifically allows and encourages local vaccination programs,” Bresee said in a statement, according to the Union-Tribune.

“Even Judge Meyer acknowledged in his ruling that the vaccine mandate ‘appears to be necessary and rational, and the district’s desire to protect its students from COVID-19 is commendable,’” he added.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) announced in October that the state would implement a mandate for students to be inoculated against COVID-19, like they are currently required to be vaccinated against other illnesses. But he said that the requirement would not go into effect until after the COVID-19 vaccine had been fully approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

The FDA granted full approval to the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for individuals ages 16 and older in August, but the vaccine is still under emergency use authorization for those between the ages of five and 15.

Roughly 20 percent of the students at San Diego Unified School District have not been vaccinated against COVID-19 as of Dec. 15, the Union-Tribune reported, citing data previously provided by the district.

Tags California COVID-19 Gavin Newsom San Diego San Diego Unified School District school vaccine mandates vaccine mandates
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