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Federal Court Backs SD Unified Vaccine Mandate

NEWS RELEASE: Federal Court Backs San Diego Unified Vaccine Mandate, Rules School District Acting in the Interest of Public Health
Posted on 12/06/2021

For the second time in as many days, a Court has sided with the San Diego Unified School District in its efforts to protect staff and students by putting in place a COVID-19 vaccine mandate. Today, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals followed the San Diego Superior Court in denying an “emergency” attempt to halt the mandate. The 9th Circuit decision comes on the same day that San Diego County recorded its highest COVID-19 case count since September and the new Omicron variant has been detected in Los Angeles.

The 9th Circuit agreed San Diego Unified is acting in the best interest of students, as opposed to discriminating on the basis of religion, as the plaintiffs had claimed. The 9th Circuit wrote, “Appellants have not shown a likelihood of establishing that the mandate was implemented with the aim of suppressing religious belief, rather than protecting the health and safety of students, staff, and the community.”

“We take seriously our responsibility to create a safe environment for our students and staff, and to protect students put at medical risk by being vaccinated,” said Board President Richard Barrera. “This latest decision recognizes that we have both the responsibility to protect students and the authority to do so by implementing a vaccine mandate, which is really our best hope as a country to get this deadly disease under control.”

The 9th Circuit ruling came on the heels of a decision yesterday by San Diego Superior Court Judge John Meyer to deny an emergency application to suspend enforcement of the San Diego Unified vaccine mandate by a North County Organization called, “Let Them Choose.”

The 9th Circuit majority decision was sweeping, stating the request for an injunction “fails to raise a serious question as to whether the vaccination mandate is not neutral and generally applicable,” the two criteria that are reviewed and applied under well-established precedent. The Court concluded the plaintiffs “have not carried their burden to establish a likelihood of success on the merits, or that they will suffer irreparable harm if this Court does not issue an injunction, or that the public interest weighs in their favor.”

Under the mandate approved by the Board of Education to help prevent the spread of the virus in schools and the community, San Diego Unified will require students who are 16 and older (as of Nov. 1, 2021) to be fully vaccinated, excluding those with an approved medical exemption, in order to continue learning in-person.

“The Court majority correctly recognized that the district’s legitimate interests include protecting the health and safety of students whose health would be placed at risk by being vaccinated, by providing a narrow medical exemption,” said San Diego Unified counsel Mark Bresee.

At least 72 percent of San Diego Unified students 16 or older have been fully vaccinated as of Nov. 8, according to district data. San Diego Unified continues to provide students, staff and community members opportunities to receive free vaccines, including pediatric doses for students as young as 5, and boosters at convenient locations throughout the district. To date, the district has received three medical exemption requests.

Students and their families are encouraged to visit the district’s COVID-19 Vaccine website for answers to frequently asked questions regarding the student vaccine mandate and details on opportunities to get vaccinated for free at school sites. In addition to district resources, families can also visit MyTurn.ca.gov for information about getting a vaccine through walk-in and scheduled appointments.

The vaccine mandate is just one part of San Diego Unified’s comprehensive approach to keep students protected from COVID-19 while at school. Other measures include requiring masks on all district properties, social distancing and tracking of student cohorts,  investing in major upgrades to air filtration and other safety infrastructure, and providing regular testing.

MEDIA CONTACT: Communications Director Maureen Magee, [email protected] , (619) 381-7930