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Victory for students and families in battle over San Diego Public Schools' discriminatory vaccine mandate

SAN DIEGO – Another act of sly gamesmanship on the part of the San Diego Unified School District has awarded a group of San Diego public school families a year-long reprieve. The district’s efforts to mandate Covid-19 vaccines for students while denying them religious exemptions has been temporarily sidelined.

The San Diego Unified School District Board of Education voted on May 24 to delay the unconstitutional order from July 2022 until July 2023 or later. This occurred mere days after Thomas More Society attorneys filed a motion for a preliminary injunction in federal court, and one day before the school district’s response to that motion was due.

The Thomas More Society and the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty have been representing a group of student families who sued the school district and its board of education, John Doe, et al. v. San Diego Unified School District, et al, because of its policy that required students to obtain the controversial vaccines while explicitly disallowing exemptions for sincerely held religious objections.

“The school district’s move takes place just days after our clients filed a renewed Motion for a Preliminary Injunction,” explained Paul Jonna, Thomas More Society Special Counsel and Partner at LiMandri & Jonna LLP. “That motion was filed on May 11 with a hearing date of June 15, 2022, in the United States District Court for the Southern District of California. On May 22 – a mere 11 days after we filed our motion – the San Diego Unified School District announced that it would vote on whether to delay its unconstitutional Covid-19 vaccine mandate a second time.”

“We welcome this course of action, which represents another significant victory for these families and their students, most of whom will now be able to have normal senior years and graduate from high school,” continued Jonna.

The San Diego Unified School District’s mandate would have forced these students to either take the Covid-19 vaccine and violate their faith, or stand firm, forego the vaccine, but withdraw from all extracurricular activities and return to independent, online study.

Jonna noted that the San Diego Unified School District has a history of imposing and then pulling this same mandate, using this tactic for strategic reasons. He described how, earlier this year, 11 Ninth Circuit judges dissented from the decision not to provide emergency relief for students with religious objections to the mandate, contending that the mandate should be immediately struck down given its obvious constitutional infirmities. A few weeks later, Jonna detailed, the United States Supreme Court was poised to strike down the school district’s mandate – but the district pulled the mandate and the high court therefore decided not to intervene.

“The school board’s decision to postpone the mandate earlier this year was likely made in order to evade Supreme Court review,” remarked Jonna. Shortly thereafter, the San Diego Unified School District decided to reimpose the mandate, effective July 2022.

“Thus, we immediately filed yet another motion seeking injunctive relief – set for hearing June 15, 2022,” asserted Jonna. “But the district is pulling its mandate, yet again – likely because it realizes, once again, that the mandate would be struck down in court.”

Jonna observed that the school board’s own published presentation states that:

· there is limited evidence of widespread classroom transmission of the virus

· as new variants come into existence, the original vaccines have lost a significant margin of effectiveness to prevent new infections after the first two months

· other mitigation measures appear to work just fine to protect against spread

· 80% student vaccination is adequate – meaning that there is no justification for refusing to accommodate students with religious objections

“Thus,” concluded Jonna, “the San Diego Unified School District has no legal or factual way to justify imposing a mandate that offers no exemptions for students with sincere religious objections.”

Only a few school districts in the entire nation have imposed a Covid-19 vaccine mandate for students without offering a religious exemption, all of them in California. Of those school districts, some have already withdrawn their mandate as being both legally and factually unsupportable. Nationwide, school districts have either made Covid vaccination voluntary or offered religious exemptions to vaccine mandates.

“In the meantime, absent an informal resolution that guarantees that all of our clients’ rights are protected in the future, we intend to push forward with the case, take discovery, and depose the key San Diego Unified School District personnel that have been pushing for this discriminatory vaccine mandate,” assured Jonna. “These students and families are committed to seeing this case through until the district either voluntarily agrees to comply with the law in the future, or until a court forces them to do so.”


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