A state appeals court ruled Nov. 22 against the San Diego Unified School District’s student COVID-19 vaccination mandate, which has been on pause for the past half-year.
The 4th District Court of Appeal agreed with a lower court’s ruling from last December that school districts cannot impose their own vaccination requirements on students and that only the state can require a vaccine for school attendance.
“This is a great win for children and the rule of law and ensures consistency statewide,” said Lee Andelin, attorney for Let Them Choose, an offshoot of San Diego County-based group Let Them Breathe that sued San Diego Unified over its student COVID vaccination mandate last year.
SDUSD, which operates five public schools in La Jolla, is examining the appeals court ruling and “will consider its next steps,” district spokesman Mike Murad said in an email.
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The appeals court rejected San Diego Unified’s several defenses of its student vaccination mandate, including that it is in line with the district’s responsibility to keep students safe and healthy, that school districts can create programs to “meet local needs” and that the vaccination requirement is not actually a mandate because it allows students to do at-home independent study if they don’t want to get vaccinated.
“We doubt that students and their parents perceive a real choice,” the appeals court wrote. “For some, independent study would likely be a step backward.”
San Diego Unified first adopted the COVID vaccination mandate for students in September 2021 and was one of a few districts in California to create its own such requirement for students.
The mandate would have required students 16 and older to be vaccinated by Dec. 20 last year in order to attend school in person and participate in extracurricular activities. Students were allowed exemptions for medical reasons but not based on personal beliefs.
However, the district never ended up fully enforcing the student mandate due to Let Them Choose’s legal challenge and subsequent timing issues.
In May, the district decided to pause the mandate until at least July 2023, partly because of the vaccines’ lower effectiveness against the Omicron variant of the coronavirus and amid delays in full federal approval of the vaccines for children younger than 16.
Since the spring, there has been little discussion of student vaccination mandates in California as public tolerance for COVID-19 restrictions and alarm about the virus have dwindled. ◆