State Supreme Court deals another defeat to San Diego Unified’s student COVID-19 vaccination mandate

A teenager gets a COVID-19 vaccine booster shot at a UC San Diego Health Mobile Vaccine Clinic in January 2022.
(Ariana Drehsler)

The court upholds lower court rulings that the district lacks the legal authority to impose its own vaccination mandates.


The California Supreme Court struck down the San Diego Unified School District’s student COVID-19 vaccination mandate and affirmed an appeals court ruling that school districts cannot create their own vaccine mandates.

On Feb. 22, the state‘s highest court rejected a challenge to the lower court’s November ruling in favor of Let Them Choose, an initiative of the anti-mask-mandate group Let Them Breathe.

The group first sued San Diego Unified in October 2021 over the district’s plans to require the original COVID-19 vaccination for students 16 and older to attend school in person and participate in extracurricular activities.

Let Them Choose argued that the district lacks the legal authority to impose its own vaccination mandates, saying that is something only the state can do. Judges at the Superior Court, appeals and now state Supreme Court levels agreed.

Let Them Breathe founder Sharon McKeeman said she was happy but not surprised that the ruling against San Diego Unified was upheld.

“This is the final finish line that we’ve crossed in protecting the rights of millions of California students against any unlawful COVID-19 vaccine mandates,” McKeeman said. “We were able to keep San Diego Unified students in school, and now we’ve set precedent statewide, just making it clear that other school districts cannot exclude students that don’t have the COVID-19 vaccine, or put forward their own mandates.”

District officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

San Diego Unified was one of a few school districts to try in 2021 to enforce its own student vaccination mandate, in addition to Los Angeles Unified and Oakland Unified.

Efforts to require the COVID-19 vaccine for in-person school attendance at a district or state level have since been dropped amid legal challenges and waning enthusiasm for COVID mitigation measures.

The district also sets a plan for bringing back an indoor mask mandate when certain COVID conditions are met.

May 25, 2022

The San Diego Unified school board approved a student vaccine mandate in September 2021. The district has argued that it has the authority to require vaccination because it has a duty to keep students safe and healthy. It also contended the mandate was not really a mandate because it let unvaccinated students attend school virtually. The mandate allowed exemptions for medical reasons but not personal beliefs.

The district was never able to fully enforce the mandate due to Let Them Choose’s legal challenge, subsequent timing issues and then the news that the initial COVID vaccines were no longer as effective against newer variants. The mandate did not require additional boosters.

Earlier this month, state officials said they were giving up on their plans to implement a statewide student COVID-19 vaccination mandate.


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