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Lawyer: Injunction against San Diego Unified's vaccine mandate will be 'short-lived'

A federal appeals court has granted a request from a 16-year-old Scripps Ranch High School student and her parents who sued to block the San Diego Unified School District's COVID-19 vaccine mandate, one day before students were required to get their first dose.

But the school district attorney said the injunction could be lifted as soon as Tuesday.

The suit filed in San Diego federal court on behalf of the family — identified as John, Jane and Jill Doe in the complaint — stated that the high school junior's religious beliefs — specifically her opposition to abortion — prohibit her from getting the vaccine.

The San Diego Unified Board of Education building at 4100 Normal Street, Oct. 24, 2012.
Katie Schoolov
The San Diego Unified Board of Education building at 4100 Normal Street, Oct. 24, 2012.

Paul Jonna, an attorney representing the family, has said his clients are opposed to taking the vaccines "because they were all either made or tested using aborted fetal cells."

Jonna said, "Our clients are firmly pro-life and refuse to benefit from vaccines that were made in this way, which they view as immoral — as do many other people of faith."

The district's plan requires that all students over age 16 receive their second dose no later than Dec. 20. According to Doe's filings, that means students' first dose must be received by Monday in order to be considered fully vaccinated by Dec. 20.

Unvaccinated students 16 years or older will be required to take part in remote learning via independent study. The district's plan allows for medical exemptions to the mandate, but not religious or personal belief exemptions.

While the family's request for a temporary restraining order was denied by U.S. District Judge Cathy Bencivengo earlier this month, a panel of the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Sunday that SDUSD's mandate will be blocked as long as the district offers vaccination deferrals for pregnant students, who were allowed to postpone receiving the vaccine.


The court's injunction will be terminated if the deferral option for pregnant students is removed, which an attorney representing the school district said is already underway.

Mark R. Bresee, an attorney handling the case for SDUSD, said the district has already taken action to remove the pregnancy deferral option and thus expects the injunction granted by the court "to be terminated soon."

Bresee also said the district has not received any pregnancy deferral requests, "so the action did not impact any students and, at any rate, the plaintiff is not seeking a deferral but is seeking to be exempted from the mandate."

In a statement, plaintiffs' attorney Paul Jonna called the ruling "a significant victory" and said the district should revise its policy to grant religious exemptions.

"Otherwise, we are confident that we will fully vindicate our clients' rights either in the Ninth Circuit or in the U.S. Supreme Court, if necessary," Jonna said.

But Bresee said that with the pregnancy deferral option addressed, the court "signaled that its full opinion will confirm that plaintiffs are unlikely to succeed on the merits..."

The attorney said SDUSD's mandate was modeled after existing state law and backed by case law.

"The district's position is that its carefully- and narrowly-crafted student vaccine mandate is constitutional based on current Supreme Court precedent," Bresee said.