Vaccines are offered in Chula Vista. Photo by Chris S
Photo by Chris Stone

A judge ruled against the San Diego Unified School District Monday in a lawsuit challenging its vaccine mandate for students.

San Diego Superior Court Judge John Meyer said the district’s mandate, which does not permit religious or personal belief exemptions, contradicts state law, because only the state legislature has the authority to implement such mandates without exemptions.

Meyer also ruled that while students are required to receive some vaccinations in order to attend in-person school, adding COVID-19 to the list of required vaccinations without allowing personal belief exemptions is another exercise of authority that lies only with the state.

Under the district’s roadmap, unvaccinated students must take part in remote learning via independent study. By the start of the district’s second semester on Jan. 24, unvaccinated students would not be allowed to continue with in-person instruction unless they have an approved medical exemption.

Meyer said that attendance in an independent study program must be voluntary, while such a program would be mandatory under the district’s roadmap.

The lawsuit which spurred Meyer’s ruling was filed by local parents group Let Them Choose, an offshoot of Let Them Breathe, which has challenged mask and vaccine mandates at the state and local level. The group argued in its suit that the district did not have the authority to impose a mandate.

It is unclear whether the school district intends to appeal the order, which comes on the day district students were required to receive their second vaccine dose in order to be considered fully vaccinated and able to attend in-person instruction by the start of the second semester.

In a statement, the school district said it disagreed with Meyer’s interpretation of the law.

“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,” the district’s statement read. “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.”‘

In regards to a potential appeal, district officials said SDUSD “is considering its options in response to this ruling.”

Let Them Breathe founder Sharon McKeeman said the group was “thrilled” with the ruling.

“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,” McKeeman said in a statement. “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.”

Updated at 4:43 p.m. December 20, 2021

–City News Service