(RNS) — The Ninth District Court of Appeals on Saturday lifted a block it had enacted on a mandate by the San Diego Unified School District requiring eligible employees and students to be vaccinated in order to attend school in person.
The temporary injunction was lifted in a 2-1 vote a week after the court blocked the mandate on Nov. 28.
The block was to be in place while the district continued to permit vaccine deferrals to pregnant students but has been lifted now that the school district ended its “deferral option for pregnant students.”
The court’s temporary injunction stemmed from a lawsuit filed on behalf of a 16-year-old high school student claiming religious discrimination over the vaccine mandate. The student in the complaint is identified as Jill Doe and attends a Christian church in San Diego County.
“The 9th Circuit agreed San Diego Unified is acting in the best interest of students, as opposed to discriminating on the basis of religion, as the plaintiffs had claimed,” the district said in a statement Saturday (Dec. 4).
Under the San Diego Unified vaccine mandate policy, employees and students 16 and older must be fully inoculated by Dec. 20 in order to attend school in person. Eligible students who do not get vaccinated will be given options for independent learning. The vaccination plan also asserts California state law “does not recognize religious or personal belief exemptions for student immunizations.”
The policy — which allows for medical exemptions — takes effect Jan. 24. Certain eligible students, however, who are newly enrolling and who are migrant, foster or homeless youth, may be conditionally enrolled for in-person learning, according to the district’s vaccination plan. They’ll be given 30 days to comply.
In its majority opinion, the court said: “Appellants have not shown a likelihood of establishing that the mandate was implemented with the aim of suppressing religious belief, rather than protecting the health and safety of students, staff, and the community.”
However, Judge Sandra Ikuta, who was against lifting the vaccine mandate block, said the district’s “mandate treats secular and religious activity differently.”
Specifically, Ikuta noted, “the policy allows in-person attendance by students unvaccinated for medical reasons, and in-person attendance by unvaccinated new enrollees who meet certain criteria.”
“By contrast, the policy does not allow any form of in-person attendance by students unvaccinated for religious reasons,” Ikuta wrote.
Paul Jonna, an attorney representing Jill Doe, said he will seek emergency relief from the U.S. Supreme Court.
He said he’s confident that a majority of the Justices will conclude the “vaccine mandate violates the First Amendment and must be enjoined unless SDUSD offers students religious exemptions.”