A judge has ruled Los Angeles Unified School District cannot require students to be vaccinated against COVID-19 — a decision with implications for large Bay Area public school districts that have adopted similar requirements.
Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Mitchell Beckloff’s Tuesday ruling is the second to find that a public school district lacks authority over vaccine requirements that are being set by the state. A judge in December ruled that a San Diego Unified School District COVID vaccine requirement exceeded its authority.
“The court finds the vaccines required of schoolchildren for enrollment and continued attendance in school in this state has been so covered by statutes within the Health and Safety Code that the field has become exclusively a matter of state concern,” Beckloff wrote in his nine-page decision.
Gov. Gavin Newsom in October said California would become the first state to mandate COVID-19 vaccines for school students, adding them to the list of 10 other already required inoculations for measles, mumps, rubella, chickenpox, polio, hepatitis B, bacterial meningitis, diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis.
The state requirement was to take effect first for grades 7-12 and later for K-6 once the Food and Drug Administration fully approves the COVID-19 vaccines, now given under emergency use authorization for children 6 months through 15 years old.
But in April, the California Department of Public Health said the statewide mandate would be put off until no sooner than July 1, 2023 because the FDA has yet to fully approve the vaccine for all ages within grades 7-12.
The same day, Sen. Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, whose bill, SB 871 would enact the state’s school COVID-19 vaccine requirement, put it on hold, citing concern that too many of the state’s children remain unvaccinated and in jeopardy of losing access to classroom instruction.
Pan, who authored controversial 2015 legislation disallowing personal belief exemptions from the state’s overall school vaccine requirements, did not include such exemptions for the COVID-19 vaccines in his bill, though Newsom had indicated that they would be allowed.
West Contra Costa Unified and Oakland Unified both adopted vaccine requirements that have since been delayed.
West Contra Costa Superintendent Kenneth Chris Hurst said in May that the district would align with the state’s current July 1, 2023 implementation date for its student vaccine mandate. The district had no other comment Wednesday on the Los Angeles Unified lawsuit.
Oakland Unified’s vaccine requirement for students ages 12 and up was supposed to become effective in January, but the school board in December postponed the effective date to late January, and then in late January to August 1, as thousands of unvaccinated students faced the prospect of being forced into a remote instruction program or disenrolled. The district had no response Wednesday to the Los Angeles ruling.
Los Angeles Unified on Wednesday said only that because the district had already aligned implementation of its vaccine requirement to the state’s July 1, 2023 timeline, all students are currently free to enroll and attend in-person instruction. The district said in a statement it “will continue to take measures to ensure the health and safety of its students, employees and school community.”
Sharon McKeeman, founder of the Let Them Breathe parent group in San Diego that has fought student face mask and vaccine mandates, said Wednesday the Los Angeles ruling will affect student vaccine mandates statewide. The group expects to win similar vaccine mandate lawsuits against Granada Hills Charter High School and New West Charter schools in Los Angeles.
“It’s clear that schools do not have authority to exclude students based on their COVID vaccination status and any academic communities that are segregating unvaccinated students are outliers who will be held legally accountable,” McKeeman said.
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