SAN DIEGO — A judge has ruled against the San Diego public school system’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for students, saying the requirement set to begin Jan. 24 conflicts with state law.
San Diego Superior Court Judge John Meyer ruled Monday that the San Diego Unified School District does not have the authority to establish its own vaccine mandate, NBC San Diego reported.
The Board of Education unanimously voted Tuesday to appeal the ruling.
“Vaccines remain the best way to protect the health and safety of our students, and we are 100-percent determined to maintain the vaccination mandate,” the school district said in a message to staff and families.
The judge’s tentative ruling sided with the parent group “Let Them Choose,” which filed the lawsuit in October. The group argued the decision to mandate vaccines must be made at the state level and also needs to include a “personal belief exemption” — unless the state Legislature acts to eliminate the exemption.
All California public schools will eventually come under a state mandate requiring the COVID-19 vaccine for in-person school attendance, but a deadline has not been set yet because the state requirement is tied to full approval of the vaccine by the Food and Drug Administration.
Gov. Gavin Newsom has encouraged local districts in the meantime to impose their own student mandates for the COVID-19 vaccine.
San Diego Unified announced in September it would require all students 16 and older to get the COVID-19 vaccine to attend in-person classes starting Jan. 24. Unvaccinated students, unless they have a medical exemption, would have to transfer into the district’s remote learning program, according to the mandate, which does not include religious or personal belief exemptions.
In his ruling, Meyer said that San Diego Unified will be required to allow students to attend in-person as long as they have received the 10 vaccines mandated by the state, which does not include the COVID-19 shot.
The judge also said that state law requires independent study programs to be voluntary — and a forced transfer into such a program violates state law.
Meyer has five days to sign Monday’s ruling during which the ruling can‘t be enforced.
Mark R. Bresee, an attorney for San Diego Unified, expressed disappointment with the ruling.
The judge “concluded only the state can act regarding vaccinations, even though the law specifically allows and encourages local vaccination programs,” Bresee said in a statement. “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.’”
San Diego Unified is one of several large school districts in California to announce such mandates. Other districts with similar mandates include Los Angeles, Oakland, Sacramento and West Contra Costa Unified school districts.