A state appeals court on Nov. 22 ruled against the San Diego Unified School District’s COVID-19 vaccination mandate for students, which has been on hold for six months.
The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with a lower court’s ruling last December that school districts cannot impose their own vaccination requirements for students and that only the state can require a vaccine for school attendance.
“This is a huge win for children and the rule of law and ensures consistency across the country,” said Lee Andelin, attorney for Let Them Choose, an offshoot of the San Diego County-based group Let Them Breathe, which is suing San Diego Unified over its student COVID vaccination requirement last year.
SDUSD, which operates five public schools in La Jolla, is reviewing the appeals court ruling and “will be considering its next steps,” district spokesman Mike Murad said in an email.
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The appeals court dismissed several defenses by San Diego Unified to its student immunization mandate, including that it meets the district’s responsibility to keep students safe and healthy, that school districts can create programs to “meet local needs,” and that compulsory vaccination is not really a mandate as it allows students to study independently at home if they choose not to be vaccinated.
“We doubt that students and their parents exercise real choice,” the appeals court wrote. “For some, studying independently would probably be a step backwards.”
San Diego Unified first passed the COVID vaccination mandate for students in September 2021 and was one of the few districts in California to have such a requirement for students of its own.
The mandate would have required students aged 16 and over to be vaccinated by December 20 last year in order to attend school in person and take part in extracurricular activities. Students were granted exceptions on medical grounds, but not on personal beliefs.
However, due to the legal challenge to Let Them Choose and the resulting timing issues, the district never fully enforced the student mandate.
In May, the district decided to suspend the mandate until at least July 2023, in part due to lower efficacy of vaccines against the Omicron variant of the coronavirus and delays in full federal approval of the vaccines for children under 16 years of age.
Since the spring, there has been little discussion of student immunization requirements in California as public tolerance of COVID-19 restrictions and concerns about the virus have waned. ◆