A judge struck down the San Diego Unified School District’s COVID-19 student vaccine mandate Monday, arguing that it contradicts state law.
San Diego County Superior Court Judge John Meyer said in a tentative ruling that it is within the purview of the state Legislature, not school districts, to mandate a vaccine for in-person school attendance.
The lawsuit was brought on behalf of SDUSD parents by Let Them Choose, an initiative of Let Them Breathe, a grassroots support group for parents fighting mandatory masking and vaccination of students K-12.
Ahead of the SDUSD’s meeting Sept. 23 to vote on the vaccine mandate, Let Them Choose sent a letter to the school board alerting them that litigation would ensue if the mandate passed.
Three weeks later, Let Them Choose sued SDUSD after they unanimously passed a vaccine strategy plan mandating that students be vaccinated by January 24.
With this decision, thousands of unvaccinated students can now remain on campus. San Diego Unified’s mandate would have required students ages 16 and older to learn remotely starting Jan. 24 if they did not get both doses of the COVID vaccine by Monday.
San Diego Unified still has a COVID-19 vaccination mandate for staff, which is not affected by Monday’s ruling. Staff who do not comply with the mandate and do not qualify for a medical or religious exemption will be terminated, the district has said.
About 20 percent of San Diego Unified’s roughly 14,000 students ages 16 and older have not gotten any dose of the vaccine as of Dec. 15, according to statistics provided by the school district.
According to officials within the school district, San Diego Unified is not granting personal-belief or religious exemptions to students because families could abuse that exemption as a loophole to not get vaccinated. The district allows religious exemptions for staff members because it is required to do so under federal law.
Mark Bresee, an attorney who represents San Diego Unified, said the school district is weighting out its legal options.
Plaintiff Let Them Choose/Let Them Breathe has argued that San Diego Unified does not have the authority to mandate the vaccination independently and that such mandates violate students’ right to an in-person education. The group has long advocated that personal-belief exemptions must be allowed for any school vaccination.
“This lawsuit proves that parent advocacy can be powerful and effective at holding government entities accountable,” Sharon McKeeman, the Carlsbad parent who founded Let Them Breathe, said in an exclusive interview with The Foreign Desk.
“This ruling will echo state and nationwide as it holds the line for the entire state against school districts coercing students into vaccination or excluding them from education,” McKeeman said.
The group has a reconsideration of their lawsuit against California’s mask mandate on January 28 of next year, based on the argument that the Governor’s emergency order is now narrowly tailored.
“We are thrilled that we won our lawsuit and empowered students to remain in their classrooms! Let Them Choose is moving forward with legal action on behalf of families in public, private and charter schools across California.”