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Justices deny high school student relief from vaccine mandate

A California student fighting her school’s coronavirus vaccine mandate has been thwarted by the high court, for now.

WASHINGTON (CN) — Citing delays to the official policy, the Supreme Court declined to offer relief to a California high school student seeking a religious exemption from her school’s Covid-19 vaccination mandate in a Friday afternoon order. 

The emergency application was sent to Justice Elena Kagan and referred to the court. The justices dismissed the request for relief in its current state but did not rule out future relief in the case. 

On Sept. 28, the San Diego Unified School District’s board unanimously approved a Covid-19 vaccination roadmap for staff and students recommended by a panel of medical experts at the University of California San Diego. The roadmap required students to be vaccinated against Covid-19 following full FDA approval of the drug.

As with the 10 other state-mandated vaccines required for enrollment in the school, the Covid-19 vaccine mandate provided medical exemptions. If students choose not to comply with the mandate, they are offered virtual classes. 

An unnamed student going as Jill Doe identifies as a healthy 16-year-old junior in high school who has previously had Covid-19. Doe filed a suit against the district in October claiming her rights under the free exercise clause of the First Amendment were violated. 


Curious about vaccine mandates — and vaccine misinformation? Listen to the Sidebar episode "Medical Hesitance, Political Defiance" for the scoop!


“Unlike almost every school district in the country, San Diego Unified School District requires its students to be vaccinated to attend classes in person,” Paul Jonna, an attorney from LiMandri & Jonna representing Doe, wrote in her application to the Supreme Court. “It provides secular exemptions for over 85% of its students. But it does not allow students any religious exemptions.”

A district court declined to issue a temporary restraining order against the school in the case in November. The Ninth Circuit also denied an injunction in the case pending appeal. 

Doe contends that the school is offering exemptions to a number of other students and that her religious exemptions should be allowed as well. 

“In stark contrast to the effective expulsion from her school and sports teams that Jill will receive for her religious exercise, the district exempts tens of thousands of Jill’s classmates from the same mandate for secular reasons,” Doe’s brief states. “Some will receive medical exemptions. Others will be given delays of the mandate for a variety of reasons (including children of military personnel, foster children, migrant youth, and homeless children). Over 80,000 students will be exempted because the district has chosen not to require vaccination for students under 16, since the vaccines have only FDA emergency authorization and not full FDA approval for those age 15 and younger.”

However, the district delayed the implementation of the policy, leaving the justices with little reason to grant emergency relief in the case. 

“Because respondents have delayed implementation of the challenged policy, and because they have not settled on the form any policy will now take, emergency relief is not warranted at this time,” Friday's single-page order states. 

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