Saturday, July 20, 2024

Cal Appeals Court Rejects School District Effort to Set Own COVID Shot Mandate

A California appeals court has ruled against a COVID-19 student vaccine mandate which was set by the San Diego Unified School District, but has been on hold for half a year.

The 4th District Court of Appeal agreed with a lower court’s ruling made last December that school districts do not have authority to impose their own vaccine requirements on students and only the state can require a vaccine for school attendance.

San Diego Unified first adopted its student vaccine mandate in September 2021 and was one of a few districts in California to create its own COVID-19 vaccine policy.

The mandate would have required students 16 and older to immediately receive the COVID-19 vaccine to then be allowed to attend school in person and participate in extracurricular activities. Students would be granted exemptions for medical reasons but not for personal beliefs.

The district never fully enforced the student mandate, due to a legal challenge by Let Them Choose, a family rights advocacy group, and subsequent timing constraints.

As a result of the vaccines’ lower effectiveness against the virus’ Omicron variant, as well as delays in full federal approval of the vaccine for children younger than 16, .San Diego Unified in May decided to delay implementation of its shot mandate until at least July 2023.

The appeals court rejected San Diego Unified’s arguments that its vaccine mandate fulfills the district’s responsibility to keep students safe and healthy, that school districts can create programs to “meet local needs” and that the district’s mandate is not actually a mandate at all because it allows students to do at-home independent study if they don’t want to get vaccinated.

“We doubt that students and their parents perceive a real choice. For some, independent study would likely be a step backwards,” the appeals court wrote in its decision. “The district’s roadmap requires students to choose between a mandated COVID-19 vaccination and involuntary independent study, a choice the legislature does not permit the district to compel.”

The appeals court cited the state’s Health and Safety Code 5, section 120335, which provides that a school “shall not unconditionally admit” a pupil who has not been vaccinated for: polio, diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, hepatitis B, haemophilus influenzae type B (HIB), measles, mumps, rubella, and chicken pox…Each of the 10 diseases was added, the court said, “through legislative action, after careful consideration of the public health risks of these diseases, cost to the state and health system, communicability, and rates of transmission.”

“By creating a process by which new immunizations can be added to the statutory list without further legislative action, it expresses a directive that the vaccinations required for school attendance present a statewide issue subject to statewide criteria,” the panel continued in its decision. “In a nutshell, local variations must give way to a uniform state standard.

“In sum then, we reject the District’s primary contention that the Legislature left the door open for local school districts to require student vaccination for COVID-19 as a condition to attending in-person class,” the court said.

“This is a great win for children and the rule of law and ensures consistency statewide,” announced Lee Andelin, an attorney for Let Them Choose.

San Diego Unified is examining the appeals court ruling and “will consider its next steps,” according to an email released by district spokesperson Mike Murad.

The ruling will have no immediate implications for other school districts, such as Los Angeles Unified School District, which also had plans to roll out its own vaccine mandate, but paused its enforcement pending the outcome of an effort to put in place a statewide COVID 19-vaccine requirement.

Regardless of California’s anticipated end to its own COVID-19 state of emergency in February, state health officials continue to bombard Golden State residents with fear-filled appeals to get vaccinated and continue to wear face masks.