LOS ANGELES — California’s two largest school districts — Los Angeles and San Diego — are targeted in lawsuits challenging their student COVID-19 vaccination mandates, alleging the vaccines are too new and that unvaccinated children face discrimination and the denial of their equal right to a public education.
Both school systems were ahead of the state in requiring student vaccines as a measure to make campuses safer and to limit spread of the coronavirus in the community — and their mandates are more comprehensive than the state requirement, which has yet to be codified into law.
In Los Angeles, an individual parent who is not named filed suit Friday. In San Diego, the parent group Let Them Breathe filed suit Monday. That group had previously filed pending litigation against the state’s student mask mandate.
The litigation against each district was prepared by Aanestad, Andelin & Corn, a law firm based in San Diego County. The two lawsuits use nearly identical language in challenging the legal basis for the mandates.
“Many parents want to see long-term studies of this new vaccine before they would consider getting their child vaccinated. Every student has a right to an in-person education under California law,” said Sharon McKeeman, the founder of Let Them Breathe, which has organized against student vaccine mandates under the name Let Them Choose. She called the mandates “unscientific and unlawful.”
Health experts broadly contend that the vaccines are safe and effective and that providing them to children has significant public health benefits. They also acknowledge that the balance of risks and benefits in children is not as clear-cut as it is for adults.
Both school districts require that all students 16 and older be fully immunized by the start of the spring semester. The COVID-19 vaccine made by Pfizer and BioNTech has been fully approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for use in that age group. Students who don’t comply must enroll in a form of independent study to remain in the school system.
L.A. Unified also extends the requirement to 12- to 15-year-olds, a group that can get the Pfizer vaccine through an FDA emergency use authorization. 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 takes effect — which is one of issues raised in the complaint.
In addition, the L.A. district has an earlier restriction affecting students 12 and older in extracurricular activities. They are supposed to be immunized by Oct. 31. According to the district’s timetable, to continue participation uninterrupted, they would have needed to take their first of two shots by Oct. 3.
Both districts allow exemptions for medical necessity but not for personal or religious beliefs.