San Diego Unified’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate struck down in court — again

A nurse gives a teen girl a shot.
Nurse Zoe Reza administers a COVID-19 vaccine to Blossom Bess, 15, at a mobile clinic at Crawford High School in San Diego in January.
(Ariana Drehsler / For the San Diego Union-Tribune)

A California appeals court ruled against the San Diego Unified School District’s COVID-19 student vaccine mandate, which has been on pause for the last half-year.

The 4th District Court of Appeal agreed Tuesday with a lower court’s ruling from December that school districts cannot impose their own vaccine requirements on students and that only the state can require a vaccine for school attendance.

“This is a great win for children and the rule of law and ensures consistency statewide,” said Lee Andelin, attorney for Let Them Choose, an offshoot of anti-mask-mandate group Let Them Breathe that sued San Diego Unified over its student COVID-19 vaccine mandate last year.


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

The appeals court rejected San Diego Unified’s several defenses of its student vaccine mandate, including that the mandate is in line with 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 vaccine mandate is not actually a mandate 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.

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Nov. 21, 2022

The ruling will have no immediate implications for the Los Angeles Unified School District, which also had a vaccine mandate but paused its enforcement pending the adoption of a statewide COVID 19-vaccine requirement.

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


The mandate would have immediately required students 16 and older to get the COVID-19 vaccine in order to attend school in person and participate in extracurricular activities. Students were allowed exemptions for medical reasons but not based on personal beliefs.

However, the district never ended up fully enforcing the student mandate, because of Let Them Choose’s legal challenge and subsequent timing issues.

In May, the district decided to pause the mandate until at least July 2023 partly because of the vaccines’ lower effectiveness against the virus’ Omicron variant and amid delays in full federal approval of the vaccine for children younger than 16.

Since the spring, there has been little discussion of student vaccine mandates in California as public tolerance for COVID-19 restrictions and alarm about the virus have dwindled.

Los Angeles Times staff writer Howard Blume contributed to this report.