San Diego Superior Court Judge John Meyer ruled on Monday that the San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD) COVID-19 vaccination mandate is to be halted due to breaking state law.
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The SDUSD board unanimously passed the mandate in late September, following the lead of several other school district mandates before it including Los Angeles and San Francisco. However, the SDUSD mandate was quickly brought to court by parents the next month. Specifically, they challenged the mandate because it did not offer exemptions for religious or personal belief reasons, only offering them for medical reasons.
Parents groups Let Them Choose and Let Them Breath, who backed the suit, have challenged several other state and local mask and vaccination mandates since mandates were first implemented.
In his ruling, Judge Meyer sided with the parent groups, noting that mandates without exemptions can only be ordered by the state legislature. Judge Meyer also said that the COVID-19 vaccine would not be added to the list of needed vaccinations without exemption due to the state also being the only one who could order such a thing.
San Diego’s mandate, which stated that all students must be vaccinated by this week and that any student not vaccinated would only be able to attend school via remote independent study when the second semester begins January 24th, is now stopped.
Let Them Breathe and other groups in favor of not having vaccination mandates praised the ruling on Tuesday, emphasizing that school districts don’t have complete exemption powers.
“We’re thrilled with this ruling,” said Let Them Breathe founder Sharon McKeeman in a statement. “Judge Meyer agreed with our legal arguments that school districts do not have authority to mandate vaccines, they cannot force students into distance learning, and personal belief exemptions for new vaccines are protected under California state law. This decision that school districts do not have authority to require the COVID-19 vaccine echoes statewide, and it shows that parents coming together in a grassroots movement to uphold our children’s rights is powerful and effective.”
SDUSD, as well as many groups pushing for vaccinations in California, were disheartened by the Judge’s Monday ruling.
“The San Diego Unified School District is disappointed that Superior Court Judge John S. Meyer concluded only the state can act regarding vaccinations, even though the law specifically allows and encourages local vaccination programs,” stated the district on Monday. “Even Judge Meyer acknowledged in his ruling that the vaccine mandate `appears to be necessary and rational, and the district’s desire to protect its students from COVID-19 is commendable.”
Legal experts explained on Tuesday that while the law was on the side of the parents groups arguments, increased urgency in COVID mandates could spur the state legislature to make the necessary exemptions soon.
“We have Delta, Omicron, and who knows what next,” said lawyer Dean White, a Washington-based lawyer who has been a part of several cases surrounding COVID-19 mandates, to the Globe on Tuesday. “The California legislature might see what happened in San Diego and decide to quickly give an exemption and skirt around the ruling. Whenever a big bump comes up, we’ve seen state legislatures do this sort of thing. So San Diegoans in favor of the mandate going down should feel good today but be wary in the future. A legal challenge or legislature intervention may change all of this.”
As of Tuesday, the SDUSD said that they are currently considering their options and may appeal the ruling to a higher court.