SAN DIEGO — A COVID-19 vaccine mandate for students in the San Diego Unified School District has been blocked following a decision by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
The mandate requires all students in the district ages 16 and over to be fully vaccinated against the coronavirus by Dec. 20, which means their first dose needed to be administered by Monday.
Sunday’s ruling, which halts the mandate pending appeal, stems from a lawsuit filed in October on behalf of a 16-year-old Scripps Ranch High School student. The family’s religious discrimination allegations regarding the mandate were reviewed by the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.
Attorneys with Thomas More Society successfully argued that since the school district allows medical exemptions for pregnant students, exemptions based on religious beliefs should also be allowed.
“The injunction shall be in effect only while a “per se” deferral of vaccination is available to pregnant students under San Diego Unified School District’s COVID-19 vaccination mandate,” Judges Berzon and Bennett said in court documents. “The injunction shall terminate upon removal of the “per se” deferral option for pregnant students.”
A third judge had a partial dissent on the order.
“I concur in granting Doe’s emergency motion for an injunction pending appeal,” Judge Ikuta said. “But I would keep the injunction in effect until the San Diego Unified School District ceases to treat any students (not just pregnant students) seeking relief from the vaccination mandate for secular reasons more favorably than students seeking relief for religious reasons, because any unvaccinated student attending in-person classes poses the same risk to the school district’s interest in ensuring a safe school environment.”
Attorney Paul Jonna, who represents the 16-year-old’s family, said they were “very pleased with the Ninth Circuit’s grant of the rare remedy of emergency injunctive relief pending appeal.”
“The Court’s full ruling will follow shortly, but the Ninth Circuit panel focused on the “per se” deferral for pregnant students – which allows them to postpone vaccination for 9 months, even though SDUSD’s own medical “experts” recommend that pregnant women get vaccinated against COVID-19,” Jonna said.
FOX 5 contacted SDUSD to learn their plans following the ruling. We have not yet heard back.
“Although the case is still in its early stages, this is a significant victory,” Jonna said. “SDUSD should promptly revise its policy to include religious exemptions for students. 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.”