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San Diego Unified appeals ruling that struck down vaccine mandate

The San Diego Unified School Board voted unanimously Tuesday to appeal a judge’s ruling that struck down the district’s vaccine mandate for some of its students. The mandate prevented unvaccinated students over 16 from attending in-person classes. KPBS reporter Gustavo Solis has more.

The San Diego Unified School District Board of Education voted unanimously Tuesday to appeal a judge’s ruling against its mandate that some students be vaccinated against COVID-19 in order to attend in-person classes.

In a message to parents, students and staff, the district said it will fight to keep the mandate alive.

“Vaccines remain the best way to protect the health and safety of our students, and we are 100-percent determined to maintain the vaccine mandate,” the statement said.

The outside of the San Diego Unified School District Education Center is shown on May 8, 2018.
Megan Wood
The outside of the San Diego Unified School District Education Center is shown on May 8, 2018.

In September, the district announced that in January it would begin requiring students 16 and older to be vaccinated in order to participate in in-person classes and extracurricular activities.

Unvaccinated students would have to enroll in a virtual learning program starting Jan. 24 unless they have an approved medical exemption. The district’s vaccine mandate did not include religious or personal belief exemptions.

In October, a group called Let Them Choose sued the district, claiming the mandate was “unnecessary, unlawful, violates students’ right to in-person education, and discriminates between persons.”

On Monday, San Diego Superior Court Judge John Meyerruled that the district’s mandate contradicts state law because it does not include a religious or personal belief exemption. Only the state can issue mandates without those specific exemptions, according to Meyer’s decision.

Although Meyer seemed to support the idea of a mandate, he ruled that the school district’s version, called the Roadmap, does not comply with state law.


“SDUSD’s Roadmap appears to be necessary and rational, and the district’s desire to protect its students from COVID-19 is commendable,” Meyer wrote in court documents. “Unfortunately, the field of school vaccine mandates has been fully occupied by the State, and the Roadmap directly conflicts with state law.”

It’s unclear why San Diego Unified didn’t originally include the religious and personal belief exemptions in the mandate. The district would not make an official available for a comment Wednesday.

Sharon McKeeman, the leader of the Let Them Choose group, said the group remains confident in its case.

“Judge Meyers ruled in our favor on the clear legal issues that school districts do not have authority to mandate a patchwork of vaccines or contradict state law by rejecting personal belief exemptions,” McKeeman said.”We do not expect the appellate court to come to a different conclusion.”

In its message to students, parents and staff, the district reminded employees that the vaccine mandate in place for staff has not been challenged in court.

The district also encouraged all parents and students to get vaccinated and receive booster shots.