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SAN DIEGO – A local advocacy group is challenging a potential COVID-19 vaccine mandate set to be discussed next week for eligible students and staff in the San Diego Unified School District.

The group called Let Them Choose, an offshoot of the mask choice advocacy initiative Let Them Breathe, sent a legal response to the district’s board Thursday, arguing the district does not have the legal authority to mandate the vaccine and calls the vaccination “unnecessary” for students.

“There are state law provisions that require any new vaccine to allow for personal belief exemption,” said Scott Davison, legal advisor for Let Them Choose and Let Them Breathe.

The state already mandates 10 vaccines for school-aged children, which are not eligible for personal belief exemptions. San Diego Unified says it is considering a COVID-19 vaccine mandate similar to what was approved by Los Angeles Unified, allowing for some exemptions but for those students not to be permitted on campus.

“We will then make our online program available to those students and so we need to have a discussion about our ability to staff up and to meet the needs of students who would not come in person,” Richard Barrera, president of the district’s board, told FOX 5 last week.

In its filing, Let Them Choose says it will consider “all available options, including a lawsuit” against San Diego Unified in a bid to prevent the district from implementing the mandate.

Davison says there are legal limitations to such a mandate if the district chooses to impose one.

“It’s a catch-22,” he said. “You can’t force them to take the COVID vaccine and you also can’t force them to go into independent study if they refuse. So on both of those fronts, legally, we would say that San Diego Unified is wrong if they think otherwise.”

Also developing is the state’s consideration of mandating the vaccine for students of all ages, if eligible as part of Dr. Mark Ghaly’s remarks when discussing California’s COVID-19 action plan Thursday.

“Unfortunately, they would have the same limitations under the rule and state law that a school district would have, which is that their state law requires they provide a personal belief exemption for any new vaccine,” Davison said.

The San Diego Unified board will discuss the mandate at next Tuesday’s board meeting which is being held virtually. The meeting begins at 5 p.m.