A California appeals court ruled against the San Diego Unified School District’s COVID-19 vaccination mandate for students, which has been on pause for the past six months.
The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday agreed with a lower court’s December ruling that school districts cannot impose their own vaccination requirements on 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 anti-mask mandate group Let Them Breathe, which is suing San Diego Unified over its student COVID -19 vaccination order last year.
San Diego Unified is reviewing the appeals court ruling and “will be considering the next steps,” district spokesman Mike Murad said in an email.
The appeals court dismissed several defenses by San Diego Unified to its student immunization mandate, including that the mandate is consistent with the district’s responsibility to keep students safe and healthy, that school districts can create programs to “meet local needs comply,” and that the district’s vaccine mandate is not actually 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 perceive any real choice. For some, independent study would likely be a step backwards,” the appeals court wrote.
The ruling will have no immediate impact on the Los Angeles Unified School District, which also had a vaccination mandate but enforcement of which has been suspended pending the adoption of a statewide COVID-19 vaccine requirement.
San Diego Unified first passed its student immunization mandate in September 2021 and was one of the few districts in California to create its own COVID-19 immunization requirement for students.
The mandate would have immediately required students as young as 16 to receive the COVID-19 vaccine in order to be able to attend school in person and participate 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 virus and delays in getting full federal approval of the vaccine for children under 16 years of age.
Since the spring, there has been little discussion in California about student vaccination mandates as public tolerance for COVID-19 restrictions and concerns about the virus have waned.
Los Angeles Times contributor Howard Blume contributed to this report.