A San Diego judge ruled Monday against the San Diego Unified School District‘s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for students 16 and older on the final day for students to be fully vaccinated in order to attend in-person classes next semester.
Superior Court Judge John S. Meyer granted a writ of mandate for a lawsuit filed by the group “Let Them Choose,” which sought to keep the school district‘s COVID-19 vaccine mandate from going into effect by arguing it did not comply with state law.
In a tentative ruling, Judge Meyer sided with the Let Them Choose Group stating that the school district‘s COVID-19 vaccine mandate cannot move forward because it conflicts with state law, which says any decision to mandate vaccines must be made at the state level and must also include a “personal belief exemption” if the mandate is not imposed by the state Legislature.
San Diego Unified‘s mandate does not include religious or personal belief exemptions.
“SDUSD‘s Roadmap appears to be necessary and rational, and the district's desire to protect its students from COVID-19 is commendable. Unfortunately, the field of school vaccine mandates has been fully occupied by the State, and the Roadmap directly conflicts with state law,” the judge wrote in a tentative ruling.
SDUSD has not yet responded to requests for comment about the ruling.
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In explaining his decision, Judge Meyer cited an amendment to Senate Bill No. 277 in 2015, at which time there were a total of 10 vaccines that children are required to take in order to attend school in person.
But -- due to a rise in measles outbreaks and decreasing vaccination rates -- the legislature removed the ability for parents to use a personal beliefs exemption to the shots. At the same time, they noted that there may be other needs to mandate shots in the future, but if a mandate was made without legislative approval, it should be done at the state level and would need to include a personal beliefs exemption, according to Meyer.
“In light of the above, it is clear that SDUSD‘s Roadmap attempts to impose an additional requirement in a field that the Legislature fully occupies,” Judge Meyer wrote.
The district argued that local districts don’t lose their authority to mandate immunizations just because the state has the authority to do so, and that this mandate is just as voluntary as all of the other 10 state-mandated vaccines.
The judge pushed back saying unlike those other shots, this mandate impacts students who are already enrolled in school, and would prevent students from other districts from transferring should their families move.
The judge also said he fails to see how San Diego is any different from other school districts when it comes to its vulnerability to COVID-19, and questioned why should SDUSD enforce a vaccine mandate but not any other surrounding districts in the state.
Judge Meyer said SDUSD will be required to allow students to attend in-person as long as they‘ve received the 10 currently state-mandated vaccines, which does not include the COVID-19 vaccine.
“I am overjoyed. We knew that our legal argument was strong, and we brought this case on behalf of thousands of concerned parents and students and to hear the judge say no student should be coerced into getting this vaccine was just a wonderful thing to hear,” said Sharon McKeeman, founder of the group behind Let Them Choose.
None of McKeeman‘s four children attend a San Diego Unified school but she says many district parents are members of the group, which is also suing Gov. Gavin Newsom. She contends that the group is not anti-vax but wants to give parents the right to choose for their children whether to be vaccinated or not.
The judge has five days to sign the ruling, and SDUSD can decide to appeal, during which the ruling can‘t be enforced.
SDUSD announced on September 28 they would require the COVID-19 shot for students 16 years and older to attend in person when the next school year starts on Jan. 24. Unvaccinated students, unless they have a medical exemption, would take part in remote learning instead.
Since, the district has faced a number of obstacles from parents who oppose the mandate.
Weeks later, the group Let Them Choose — whose stated mission is “to protect families‘ rights to make personal medical decisions and students‘ right to an in-person education” — file the lawsuit alleging the district‘s mandate conflicts with state law and that the risk from adverse reactions to the vaccine outweighs any benefits to youth.
The district has also been sued by a Scripps Ranch High School student-athlete and her parents who contend the mandate violates her religious rights.
In that lawsuit, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sided with SDUSD to deny an emergency injunction that would suspend enforcement of the vaccine mandate while the lawsuit works its way through the judicial system.
Judge Meyer had denied the injunction before it moved to the court of appeals.
The student‘s attorneys have since asked the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene in the case.