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San Diego Unified’s student vaccination mandate is delayed to next school year

COVID-19 vaccine
Students 16 and older in the San Diego Unified School District now won’t have to get vaccinated against COVID-19 until next school year, which starts in August.
(Associated Press)

The requirement is now set to kick in for students 16 and older starting in late August.

The San Diego Unified School District now says students won’t have to get vaccinated against COVID-19 until next school year, which starts in late August, as a legal challenge to its student vaccination mandate remains under appeal.

The school board approved a new timeline for the student vaccination requirement Feb. 22.

Students 16 and older now will have to show proof of their first vaccine dose by Sept. 6 and proof of their second dose by Oct. 4 to attend school in person. Students will have to get vaccinated earlier if they want to participate in summer programs and fall extracurriculars, including sports.

Student trustee Zachary Patterson was the only board member to vote no. He said the student mandate should be implemented now, not later.

The board initially voted in September to require the COVID vaccine for staff and students 16 and older by December. Unvaccinated students in that age range would have had to learn from home starting with the second semester, which began in January.

But the district’s student mandate was struck down in December by San Diego County Superior Court Judge John Meyer, who said only the state has the authority to make school vaccination requirements. San Diego Unified appealed the ruling.

Earlier this month, a state appeals court granted a stay on Meyer’s ruling, allowing the student vaccination mandate to continue while the appeal is pending. And on Feb. 18, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to grant an emergency order blocking the district from enforcing the requirement.

Although the district can legally continue with its student mandate, it is postponing the implementation to next school year because of the logistical difficulties in enforcing a mandate in the middle of a school year, said board trustee Richard Barrera. The legal challenge threw off the district’s original timeline that was aligned to the start of the second semester, which would have made the mandate easier to implement, Barrera said.

Because of the delay, San Diego Unified’s student vaccination mandate may end up coming after a statewide student vaccine mandate is implemented. State leaders have said they plan to require students 12 and older to get vaccinated as soon as July, but only if the U.S. Food and Drug Administration fully approves the vaccine for children ages 12-15. The vaccine is currently fully approved for people 16 and older.

A key difference between the state’s student vaccination plan and San Diego Unified’s is that the district says it will not grant students exemptions based on personal beliefs.

Sharon McKeeman, leader of Let Them Choose, an organization that sued San Diego Unified over its student vaccination mandate, said she believes the district’s appeal of Meyer’s ruling will be unsuccessful.

“It’s unwise that they are using taxpayer dollars to fight Judge Meyer’s legal decision, but they have done one thing right, which is to rethink their agenda to push through this unlawful mandate,” McKeeman said in a statement.

As of Feb. 13, about 79 percent of San Diego Unified students 16 and older were fully vaccinated. That number was virtually unchanged from December, the district’s original deadline for students to get vaccinated.

About two dozen people gave public comments during the board’s discussion of the vaccination mandate Feb. 22, but virtually none of them discussed the vaccine plan. All the comments were about whether masks should continue to be required in school.

California still requires students and staff to wear masks indoors at schools in kindergarten through 12th grade. The state plans to announce an update on the policy Monday, Feb. 28.

State officials and school leaders have come under fire from some families who want the student mask mandate to be scrapped.

— Point Loma-OB Monthly staff contributed to this report.


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