California’s two largest school districts – Los Angeles and San Diego – are facing lawsuits challenging their students’ COVID-19 vaccination mandates, alleging vaccines are too recent and unvaccinated children face discrimination and denial of their equal right to public education.
The two school systems were ahead of the state in requiring vaccines for students as a measure to make campuses safer and to limit the spread of the coronavirus in the community – and their mandates are more comprehensive than the state’s requirement, which no has not yet been codified into law.
In Los Angeles, an unnamed individual relative filed a complaint on Friday. In San Diego, parent group Let Them Breathe filed a complaint Monday. This group had previously filed a pending lawsuit against the state’s student mask warrant.
The litigation against each district was prepared by Aanestad, Andelin & Corn, a San Diego County-based law firm. Both lawsuits use almost identical language to challenge the legal basis of the warrants.
“Many parents want to see long-term studies of this new vaccine before considering having their child vaccinated. Every student has the right to in-person education under California law, ”said Sharon McKeeman, founder of Let Them Breathe, which has organized against student immunization mandates as Let Them Choose. She called the warrants “unscientific and illegal”.
Health experts generally argue that vaccines are safe and effective, and that providing them to children has significant public health benefits. They also recognize that the balance of risk and benefit in children is not as clear as it is in adults.
Both school districts require that all students 16 and over be fully immunized by the start of the spring semester. The COVID-19 vaccine manufactured by Pfizer and BioNTech has been fully approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration for use in this age group. Students who do not comply must enroll in some form of independent study to stay in the school system.
LA Unified is also extending the requirement to 12 to 15 year olds, a group who can obtain the Pfizer vaccine through emergency use clearance from the FDA. 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 goes into effect – which is one of the issues raised in the complaint.
Additionally, the LA District has a prior restriction affecting students 12 and older in extracurricular activities. They are supposed to be vaccinated before October 31. According to the district calendar, to continue participating without interruption, they should have been vaccinated before October 3.
Both districts allow exemptions for medical necessity, but not for personal or religious beliefs.
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San Diego School Board President Richard Barrera said the district does not offer personal belief exemptions because families could end up abusing this loophole, resulting in low vaccination rates.
The lawsuits argue that school systems do not have the power to require vaccines – calling it “within the province alone” of the state legislature and the state health department.
The state did not take that position and this week the demands of LA Unified were hailed by Dr. Mark Ghaly, who heads the California Health and Human Services Agency.
“I applaud leaders across the state for looking at immunizing more young people and establishing a mandatory in-person training,” Ghaly said in a recorded message for the meeting. from the Los Angeles board on Tuesday. “We have a safe, efficient and necessary tool to move our schools forward. “
Separately, Gov. Gavin Newsom this month announced the start of a process to require statewide COVID-19 vaccines for all students, but that effort would include a personal belief exemption unless the legislature does not. ‘take action to eliminate it.
The litigation argues that COVID-19 poses a “very low risk” to children, a view not widely shared by public health officials. The lawsuit also alleges that children rarely spread coronavirus infections, although many experts say the claim is false or unproven.
Out of 100,000 children, 8,035 were diagnosed with COVID-19 during the pandemic, according to the latest figures from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children’s Hospital Assn. The case rate has increased since July, reaching a higher peak than that seen during the devastating wave of winter.
The pediatrician group recommends vaccination for adolescents 12 years of age and older.
The litigation, in three dozen pages of argument, refers to research supporting its claims and rulings in other countries that flies in the face of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s findings. .
The warrants, according to the lawsuit, illegally deprive children of their right to public education by relegating them to an inferior independent study program.
“Keeping healthy children out of the classroom is against California law, is not necessary to reduce cases of COVID-19 in schools, and is not in the best interests of students, parents or school districts, ”the lawsuits say.
Both school systems approved their pupil vaccination mandates in September and have one for employees as well.
The mandate for LA Unified employees comes into effect Monday, when unvaccinated employees will no longer be able to report to work on campus.
The district did not disclose information on the number of employees who had not yet complied.
In a presentation on the value of vaccines at the education council meeting on Tuesday, a senior district official said there were “contingency plans” in place, without elaboration. Board members did not ask questions or discuss the issue of employee vaccines.
At that meeting, the district’s tenure won praise from a senior county health official, Dr Robert Gilchick, who also addressed a common fear about the vaccine: that it could cause myocarditis, inflammation of part of the heart muscle. Gilchick said the risk was low and virtually all of the cases were minor. He added that the risk of developing myocarditis was 16 times higher for those who receive COVID-19 than for those who receive the vaccine.