California court rules school districts can't impose own COVID-19 vaccine mandates

Students who did not receive a vaccine would have to opt for independent study.

Updated: November 24, 2022 - 5:00pm

The Facts Inside Our Reporter’s Notebook

A California appeals court ruled this week that individual school districts cannot impose their own COVID-19 student vaccine mandates.

The 4th District Court of Appeal on Tuesday upheld a lower court decision affirming that the authority to regulate vaccine requirements in public schools wrests solely with state lawmakers and that there was "no room for each of the over 1,000 individual school districts to impose a patchwork of additional vaccine mandates."

The San Diego Unified School District in 2021, adopted a "Vaccine Roadmap" that would have required students aged 16 or older to receive a COVID-19 vaccine to attend classes in person, which prompted a legal challenge from anti-mandate advocacy group Let Them Choose.

Students who did not receive a vaccine would have to opt for independent study. The district had argued that the policy was not, in effect, a vaccine mandate, but rather it merely allowed students the choice of getting vaccinated and pursuing different approaches to their education in light of said decision.

The court called that argument "strained" and contended that families in the district likely saw little option but to get vaccinated in light of the policy.

"We doubt that students and their parents perceive a real choice," the court wrote. "For some, independent study would likely be a step backwards. According to the State Department of Education, independent study 'may not be the right option for every pupil who is not thriving in a regular classroom setting."