Group Withdraws Federal Suit Challenging San Diego’s No Exemption Student Vaccination Mandate

Group Withdraws Federal Suit Challenging San Diego’s No Exemption Student Vaccination Mandate
A file photo of San Diego Unified School District in San Diego on Dec. 30, 2021. (Tina Deng/The Epoch Times)
Matthew Vadum

A federal lawsuit challenging San Diego’s mandate that required COVID-19 vaccinations for students is poised to be formally dismissed after the Supreme Court of California struck it down as discriminatory last month.

The San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD) was one of the few in the United States that required students to receive the vaccine for in-person instruction while not offering a religious exemption, however, the enthusiasm for strict COVID-19 mitigation efforts has waned since the height of the pandemic.

School districts in Los Angeles and Oakland had also tried to enforce a COVID-19 vaccination mandate for students.

State officials said in February that they were abandoning plans to impose a statewide mandate.

No Belief-Based Objections

SDUSD approved its mandate in September 2021 that required all students over the age of 16 to be vaccinated in order to attend classes in person and participate in extracurricular activities. The district specifically stated that no students with religious or personal belief-based objections to the vaccination would be accommodated.

Many people object to the various COVID-19 vaccines for religious reasons.

Although enforcement of the mandate was repeatedly delayed because of public resistance, the Supreme Court of California struck it down on Feb. 22 and upheld a state appeals court ruling that found school districts are unable to impose their own vaccination rules.

That legal action was brought by a group called Let Them Choose, a project of Let Them Breathe, a non-profit organization founded by Sharon McKeeman.

“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 at the time, according to The San Diego Union-Tribune.

“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.”

Students Sued Separately

A teenage student identified by the pseudonym Jill Doe and others had sued separately in federal court, arguing that the lack of a religious exemption for students meant the mandate ran afoul of the religious protections of the free exercise clause in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

But because the school district put the mandate on hold, federal Judge Linda Lopez, a Biden appointee, dismissed the lawsuit as moot in November 2022.

The litigants appealed the ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit but 11 of the circuit court judges dissented from that court’s refusal to act, suggesting they believed the mandate was unconstitutional.

The case also made it to the nation’s highest court.

The U.S. Supreme Court denied relief on Feb. 18, 2022, citing one of the school district’s delays of the policy but left the door open to future emergency applications, stating in an unsigned order that the denial was “without prejudice to applicants seeking a new injunction if circumstances warrant.”
But with the mandate struck down by the state Supreme Court last month, there was no reason for the federal lawsuit to continue.

Mandate Gone for Good

Attorney Paul Jonna, a partner at LiMandri and Jonna and special counsel for the Thomas More Society, a nonprofit focusing on religious liberty, declared victory in the legal battle against the school district, noting that the mandate was gone for good.

“This is indeed a victory, one that demonstrates the efficacy of judicial power to uphold the laws of the land,” Jonna said.

“The mandate is gone and can never be reimposed again,” Jonna told The Epoch Times in an interview.

“The mandate is dead, so we’re dismissing our case now because we’ve achieved our objective. There is no further relief we think we could obtain at this point.”

Jonna said on March 9 that his firm filed a motion to dismiss the appeal that is currently pending in the 9th Circuit. The school district doesn’t oppose the motion, he said.

SDUSD voluntarily delayed the mandate “and suspended it throughout the litigation, but now, even if they wanted to reimpose it, they’d have no legal way to, in light of that other litigation in state court,” Jonna said.

School district officials didn’t respond by press time to a request by The Epoch Times for comment.