Court temporarily blocks San Diego Unified’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate

RANCHO SANTA FE (KUSI) – A federal appeals court has granted a request from a 16-year-old Scripps Ranch High School student and her parents who sued to block the San Diego Unified School District’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate, one day before students were required to get their first dose.

The suit filed last month in San Diego federal court on behalf of the family — identified as John, Jane and Jill Doe in the complaint — stated that the high school junior’s religious beliefs — specifically her opposition to abortion — prohibit her from getting the vaccine.

Paul Jonna, an attorney representing the family, has said his clients are opposed to taking the vaccines “because they were all either made or tested using aborted fetal cells.”

Jonna said, “Our clients are firmly pro-life and refuse to benefit from vaccines that were made in this way, which they view as immoral — as do many other people of faith.”

The district’s plan requires that all students over age 16 receive their second dose no later than Dec. 20. According to Doe’s filings, that means students’ first dose must be received by Monday in order to be considered fully vaccinated by Dec. 20.

Unvaccinated students 16 years or older will be required to take part in remote learning via independent study. The district’s plan allows for medical exemptions to the mandate, but not religious or personal belief exemptions.

While the family’s request for a temporary restraining order was denied by U.S. District Judge Cathy Bencivengo earlier this month, a panel of the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Sunday that SDUSD’s mandate will be blocked as long as the district offers vaccination deferrals for pregnant students, who were allowed to postpone receiving the vaccine. The court’s injunction will be terminated if the deferral option for pregnant students is removed.

Representatives from SDUSD did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

In a statement, plaintiffs’ attorney Paul Jonna called the ruling “a significant victory” and said the district should revise its policy to grant religious exemptions.

“Otherwise, we are confident that we will fully vindicate our clients’ rights either in the Ninth Circuit or in the U.S. Supreme Court, if necessary,” Jonna said.

KUSI’s Hunter Sowards was live from Rancho Santa Fe with more information on the case.

KUSI reached out to the SDUSD for a response to the court’s ruling, which is below:

 

We expect the court’s brief order issued last night will be short-lived, and the primary take-away is that the court appears poised to uphold the District’s vaccination mandate in the face of numerous lines of attack.

Regarding the pregnancy deferral issue the court addressed in its brief order, the District has already taken action to remove the option to request a deferral during pregnancy, and is in the process of notifying the court, so we expect the injunction to be terminated soon. No pregnancy deferral requests had been received, so the action did not impact any students and, at any rate, the plaintiff is not seeking a deferral but is seeking to be exempted from the mandate.

The District is pleased that the majority signaled that its full opinion will confirm that plaintiffs are unlikely to succeed on the merits once the court’s concerns regarding a pregnancy deferral option are addressed. The District modeled its vaccine mandate on existing state law, including the narrow, objective process for seeking and obtaining a medical exemption when vaccination would pose a risk to the health and safety of the individual student. The decision to mandate vaccination only after full FDA approval is also consistent with the District’s focus on the health and safety of individual students. The body of state law used as a model, which contains a medical exemption but no religious or personal beliefs exemption, has already been upheld in federal court. Whitlow v. Cal. Dep’t of Educ., 203 F.Supp.3d 1079 (S.D. Cal. 2016). More recently the U.S. Supreme Court has refused to enjoin an employee vaccine mandate with a much broader medical exemption and no religious exemption. Does 1-3 v. Mills, 2021 WL 5027177 (Oct. 29, 2021). The District’s position is that its carefully and narrowly crafted student vaccine mandate is constitutional based on current Supreme Court precedent.

Best, Mark Bresee

Categories: Coronavirus, Good Evening San Diego, Local San Diego News