San Diego-Based Parents Group Fighting Mask and Vaccine Mandates in Schools

NBC 7 asked the founder of Let Them Breathe why she and her supporters are compelled to go against expert advice from organizations like the CDC

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Sharon McKeeman is a local mom of four and founded “Let Them Breathe” in March 2021 to fight mask mandates for children and adults. 

She agreed to do an interview with NBC 7, but didn’t want to divulge details of her personal life because she says she’s been receiving death threats. She said the threats are “sad” because she says she wants what every parent does – what’s best for their kids.

McKeeman, a former art teacher, is speaking against what the CDC and The American Academy of Pediatrics say - that masks do work if worn properly. Those organizations support universal masking in schools, regardless of vaccination status.

“We are hearing the science say that these cloth masks have a very low efficacy for our kids,” she said. NBC 7 asked McKeeman about the science or the numbers to support her claim, and she pointed us to her lawsuit filed this week against the San Diego Unified School District over vaccine mandates.

“I am very careful not to share any numbers because you know what? We can always argue over numbers. I leave that up to the attorneys. If people want to read numbers and studies they can read the full complaint,” she said. 

McKeeman believes school districts lack legal authority for vaccine mandates and says people should have the right to choose. 

“There was a night where I just started the group on Facebook and I thought ‘well I hope some people join,'” she said laughing. 

Based on social media followings, McKeeman estimates her group is made up of 30,000 parents in California and other parts of the country. 

McKeeman lives in the North County with her husband, who’s in the military, and four kids who all go to public schools. 

NBC 7 asked whether she and her eligible family members were vaccinated. “I don't share my vaccination status or my kiddos but again I will say we stand for choice in this very new vaccine.” 

She believes she’s had COVID at least once, maybe twice. And her kids did, too.

“All of my kids have had COVID and recovered very quickly,” she said. “I know that they have some very strong, natural immunity going on.”

Members of Let them Breathe and its offshoot Let Them Choose gained attention rallying outside and sometimes disrupting school board meetings all over California. McKeeman says the group advocates for positive and peaceful protests, but can’t always control the actions of individuals. 

The group, which is now a registered non-profit, has two GoFundMe pages. One has raised more than $150,000. McKeeman says the money is used for their legal fees to fight mask and vaccine mandates.

NBC 7's Rory Devine sat down with the attorney representing Let Them Breathe, a group that claims the school district doesn't have the authority to impose a vaccine mandate on students.

GoFundMe sites are not the organization’s only source of income. On the Let Them Breathe website, McKeeman sells yard signs, tote bags, clothing and stickers with the Let Them Breathe logo.

“There are obviously other things that are involved, like our newsletter, which is very large so that’s an upkeep," she said.

When NBC 7 asked McKeeman what qualified her to speak about topics involving medicine and science, she responded, “I would say that parents are some of the most qualified to speak right now because we are seeing what’s going on with our children. My son almost didn't survive last year. My oldest son, not due to COVID, due to mental health impacts of school closures and restrictions such as masking.”

And while a majority of eligible Californians have chosen to get vaccinated, McKeeman believes many parents stand with her and her organization's beliefs.

“I definitely don't think we are in the minority, I think that the majority of families are standing for choice," she said.

As for the validity of the group's lawsuit, Let Them Breathe's attorney Lee Andlein said the school district is overreaching.

"State law says that if a child is vaccinated with 10 vaccines that are defined by California statute, then the school must admit those students," Andelin said. "Only the California Department of Public Health has the authority to add to that list. Individual school districts do not have that authority, California law is pretty clear on that."

The state has imposed a vaccine mandate for students and staff, but with a longer deadline.

The lawsuit argues children who can't attend school due to vaccination status will be harmed, and their rights are being infringed upon because there is no personal belief exemption.

"The risk-benefit analysis just doesn't add up for most children," Andelin said. "You know, depending on their risk profile and they have a constitutional right to make those decisions for themselves."

Legal analyst Dan Eaton said the district denied exemptions because they provide too big of a loophole.

"One of the things they are saying is that the state really has exclusive authority to set these vaccine mandates," Eaton said. "And the San Diego Unified School District has gone too far by asserting an individualized mandate."

Let Them Breathe is also suing the Los Angeles Unified School District for the same reason.

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