Parents sue LA and San Diego school districts over vaccination mandate

Los Angeles, California — California’s two largest school districts, Los Angeles and San Diego, have been targeted in lawsuits challenging their student Covid-19 vaccination mandates, alleging the vaccines are too new and that unvaccinated children face discrimination and the denial of their equal right to a public education.

LA County Supervisor Hilda Solis spoke at a mobile vaccination clinic at a LA high school, after The Board of Education approved a mandate that all public school children 12 and older must be fully vaccinated against Covid-19 by January. It became the first major US school district to do so.
LA County Supervisor Hilda Solis spoke at a mobile vaccination clinic at a LA high school, after The Board of Education approved a mandate that all public school children 12 and older must be fully vaccinated against Covid-19 by January. It became the first major US school district to do so.  © IMAGO/ZUMA Wire

Both school systems were ahead of the state in requiring student vaccines as a measure to make campuses safer and to limit spread of the coronavirus in the community — and their mandates are more comprehensive than the state requirement, which has yet to be codified into law.

In Los Angeles, an individual parent who is not named filed the suit on Friday. In San Diego, the parent group Let Them Breathe filed a similar suit on Monday. The group had previously filed pending litigation against the state’s student mask mandate.

The two lawsuits use nearly identical language in challenging the legal basis for the mandates.

"Many parents want to see long-term studies of this new vaccine before they would consider getting their child vaccinated. Every student has a right to an in-person education under California law," said Sharon McKeeman, the founder of Let Them Breathe, which has organized against student vaccine mandates under the name Let Them Choose. She called the mandates "unscientific and unlawful."

Health experts broadly contend that the vaccines are safe and effective and that providing them to children has significant public health benefits. They also acknowledge that the balance of risks and benefits in children is not as clear-cut as it is for adults.

Both school systems approved their student vaccination mandates in September and also have one for employees.

They require that all students 16 and older be fully immunized by the start of the spring semester. The Covid-19 vaccine made by Pfizer and BioNTech has been fully approved by the Food and Drug Administration for use in that age group. Students who don’t comply must enroll in a form of independent study to remain in the school system.

The mandates, according to the suit, unlawfully deny children their right to public education by relegating them to an inferior independent study program.

LA Unified also extends the requirement to 12- to 15-year-olds, a group that can get the Pfizer vaccine through an FDA emergency use authorization. The agency has not granted full approval of any Covid-19 vaccine for this younger age group, and that may not happen by the time the requirement takes effect — which is one of issues raised in the complaint.

In addition, the LA district has an earlier restriction affecting students 12 and older in extracurricular activities. They are supposed to be immunized by October 31. According to the district’s timetable, to continue participation uninterrupted, they would have needed to take their first of two shots by October 3.

Both districts allow exemptions for medical necessity but not for personal or religious beliefs.

Covid cases have risen this year among children

Mobile vaccination clinics have been held at schools in the Los Angeles area.
Mobile vaccination clinics have been held at schools in the Los Angeles area.  © IMAGO/ZUMA Wire

San Diego school board President Richard Barrera has said the district is not offering personal belief exemptions because families may end up abusing that loophole, resulting in low vaccination rates.

The lawsuits argue that the school systems lack the authority to mandate vaccines — calling it "within the sole province" of the state Legislature and state health department.

The state has not taken this position.

Separately, Gov. Gavin Newsom this month announced the start of a process to require Covid-19 vaccines statewide for all students, but this effort would include a personal belief exemption unless the Legislature acts to eliminate it.

Out of every 100,000 children, 8,035 have been diagnosed with Covid-19 during the pandemic, according to the latest figures from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children’s Hospital Association.

The case rate has been increasing since July, reaching a peak that was higher than the one seen during the devastating winter surge.

The pediatricians group recommends vaccination for adolescents 12 and older.

Cover photo: IMAGO/ZUMA Wire

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