San Diego COVID-19 vaccination mandate for students illegal, state appeals court rules

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A lower court’s ruling striking down San Diego’s mandate requiring COVID-19 vaccinations for students will remain in effect after a California appeals court slapped down an appeal Nov. 22 lodged by the second-largest local school district in the state.

San Diego’s school district decided earlier this year to delay the mandate until at least mid-2023.

The California Legislature currently requires schoolchildren to be vaccinated for 10 diseases, but COVID-19 is not one of them. The issue in this case was whether a school district can require students to be vaccinated for COVID-19 as a condition for both attending in-person classes and participating in extracurricular activities.

San Diego Superior Court Judge John Meyer previously found that only the state can implement such a mandate.

In a new ruling (pdf) by the California Court of Appeal, an intermediate appellate court, a three-judge panel of the court found that the school district “unlawfully seeks to usurp [the] authority” of the state Legislature.

In other words, the appeals court held that San Diego Unified School District’s September 2021 “Vaccination Roadmap” that forced students 16 and older to be vaccinated against COVID-19 in order to attend in-person classes and participate in sports and other extracurricular activities was beyond the authority of the district to implement. The roadmap policy, which allowed medical but not religious exemptions, required that unvaccinated students be placed on independent study.

The school district had argued its roadmap was legally permissible because it had “significant authority and responsibility over student health and safety measures.”

But if the school district wanted to insist on the jabs, it should have asked the California Department of Public Health to go through the process prescribed under state law to require new immunizations, the court stated. The court added it rejected the district’s argument that the Legislature had “left the door open for local school districts to require student vaccination for COVID-19 as a condition to attending in-person class.”

The lawsuit was brought by Let Them Choose, a project of Let Them Breathe, a non-profit organization founded by Sharon McKeeman that says it is part of “a grassroots movement of over [80,000] families to protect students’ access to effective education.”

McKeeman told The Epoch Times she was pleased with the new court ruling.

“It was very validating to hear the appellate court justices echo our concern over the chaos that school districts arbitrarily mandating new vaccines would cause and outline the appropriate avenue for amending and adhering to requirements set forth by the Legislature,” McKeeman said in a statement.

“I am so proud of our community for working hard to set precedent against school districts violating student rights, and we will continue to advocate to the Legislature for students’ ability to access education.”

The group’s attorney, Lee Andelin, described the decision in a statement as “a great win for children and the rule of law [that] ensures consistency statewide.”

Lawyer Paul Jonna, a partner at LiMandri and Jonna and special counsel for the Thomas More Society, a nonprofit focusing on religious liberty, hailed the ruling but cautioned that the case may not yet be over. Jonna represented a client in a separate lawsuit aiming to strike down the mandate.

The new ruling “does not say that California cannot impose a mandate,” Jonna told The Epoch Times in an interview.

“It just says San Diego United cannot. So California can still add this to their list of mandated vaccines, the COVID vaccine, and if that happens, then we’ll be prepared to file” our lawsuit again, he said.

It is unclear if the San Diego Unified School District will appeal the ruling.

The Epoch Times reached out to the school district for comment but had not received a reply as of press time.

This article by Matthew Vadum appeared Nov. 23, 2022, in The Epoch Times.