A Los Angeles County Superior Court judge on Tuesday struck down LA Unified’s COVID-19 vaccination mandate for students, ruling that the school district has exceeded its powers and that the power to require children to be vaccinated for school attendance rests with the state lies.
However, the ruling has no immediate impact within the LA Unified School District, as in May the district extended its mandate to at least July 2023 — a move consistent with the state’s decision to suspend its own vaccination requirements for schools until then. LAUSD was the first of the country’s largest school systems to introduce mandatory COVID-19 vaccination for students, and despite the delay, school board members have vigorously defended it against lawsuits.
In a statement Wednesday morning, the school district did not address the lawsuit directly, but a spokesman said students were able to register at school and attend in-person classes because LA Unified is coordinating with the state on when to enforce a vaccine have mandate. The county hasn’t said whether it will appeal the decision.
Judge Mitchell L. Beckloff’s ruling was a significant victory for Let Them Breathe, a California-based group that has opposed vaccination and mask mandates.
“Judge Beckloff’s decision confirms that individual school districts do not have the authority to impose local immunization requirements in excess of statewide requirements,” said Arie L. Spangler, a member of the legal team prosecuting the case. “We are very pleased with the ruling as it ensures that no child is forced out of the classroom because of their COVID-19 immunization status.”
The judgment — and the litigation — did not address the issue of employee vaccination orders, and the district’s enforcement of that requirement remains in effect.
Beckloff wrote that he previously thought that the school district’s vaccination resolution fell short of mandate because it only affected the manner of instruction and not the content. Unvaccinated students would have been moved to online classes under the policy. But in his verdict, Beckloff said the evidence presented convinced him otherwise.
The judge cited the example of DF, a student who would have been forced to move from a magnet program specializing in science to an online degree program.
“Although the resolution is a campus community health and safety measure, it also mandates who may be enrolled and continue to attend certain schools in the district,” the judge wrote in his nine-page decision.
“If DF remains unvaccinated, he will have to leave his current school and its curriculum and programs to enroll in a new school in the district … where it appears his curriculum would be very different than his current school.” Therefore, the resolution is not just about how education is delivered or who might be physically present on campus, as the court has previously seen. Instead, the resolution dictates which school the student may attend and what curriculum he may continue to receive.”
That important choice would be something parents of other children would continue to have, the judge said.
The judge also agreed with the plaintiffs that the state has jurisdiction over vaccination policy and “has shown intent to fully occupy the vaccine space required for enrollment and continued school attendance.”
In addition to passing legislation, the state established a process that would allow the California Department of Health and Human Services to add additional vaccines after “considering the recommendations of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices. the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Family Physicians,” Beckloff wrote.
The court also found that the state administrative process for adding a vaccine “is subject to a personal exemption of belief.” The LA Unified mandate for students did not include a personal belief exemption.
California law does not allow personal conviction exemptions for 10 student vaccines, which are specifically mandated by the legislature. Only rare medical exceptions are allowed. State law does not currently cover the COVID-19 vaccine, but that could change in the future.
Using essentially similar arguments, a San Diego County Superior Court judge in December upheld a student COVID-19 vaccine mandate imposed by the San Diego Unified School District.
These judicial interpretations conflict with those of Gov. Gavin Newsom and officials in his administration, who have claimed that LA Unified had the legal authority to impose its own stricter vaccination mandate.
In its counter-arguments, LA Unified maintained that in the event of a loss, the verdict should apply only to the student on whose behalf the case was brought.
The judge disagreed, writing, “The court finds no justification for such a limitation given the … lack of authority to pass the resolution.”
The litigation notwithstanding, LA Unified Supt. Alberto Carvalho had requested a mandate delay based on the school system’s current vaccination rate among older students and what he described as low transmission rates in schools. Carvalho said he also consulted with experts who have worked with the country’s second-largest school system.
By mid-May, about 78% of Los Angeles Unified students ages 12 and older had received two doses of the vaccine. About 84% of students aged 12 and over received at least one dose.
The school system is moving forward with its online academy option for the fall. Enrollment in the online academies would potentially include families uncomfortable with the mandate’s postponement, as well as others who remain concerned about the health risks associated with COVID-19.
All staff working on school sites are fully vaccinated. Some former employees lost their jobs because they refused to be vaccinated and were not given time off or substitute assignments.
https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2022-07-06/judge-strikes-down-lausd-student-vaccine-mandate Judge strikes down paused LAUSD student vaccine mandate