PIEDMONT — With graduation looming and an estimated 98% of Piedmont students vaccinated, the settlement of a lawsuit by two groups against the Piedmont Unified School District over its COVID-19 vaccination mandate is in the rearview mirror.
The two non-profit groups, Children’s Health Defense and PERK (Protection of the Education Rights of Kids), and parents identified as Jane Doe and Janet Doe challenged the PUSD’s adoption last September of a by-law concerning student COVID vaccines.
The entire case was unconditionally settled on April 27 by the Alameda County Superior Court, with a judge striking down the school district’s mandate in its entirety for all K-12 students. Judge Brad Seligman ruled the district failed to show why its policy shouldn’t be overturned. The order came after Seligman granted Children’s Health Defense and PERK’s request for an alternate writ of retainer, which resulted in settlement negotiations with the district.
Under the agreement, the district not only revoked the warrant, but also agreed not to consider similar warrants in the future. With the lawsuit looming, the school board had already revised its immunization bylaw on Jan. 26.
“The decision led to a settlement agreement where the lawsuit was dropped following the council’s decision to revert to its original vaccination policy. We would not say there is a correlation between this decision and our recent increase in COVID cases, as our eligible students were nearly 98% vaccinated at the time,” said Brian Killgore, PUSD Communications Director.
Rita Barnett-Rose, attorney for the California Chapter of Children’s Health Defense (CHD-CA), said, “This is a major victory not just for school children and families in the district, but across the state. . Without the actions of CHD-CA and PERK, this policy violates the right of students to an in-person education without being required to take an experimental vaccine.
When the District reversed its position, it said, “The District believes that students benefit exponentially more from an in-person educational experience than from an independent curriculum. For this reason, and our incredibly high vaccination rates, the Superintendent recommends that the Board of Education remove COVID-19 from board policy until the California Department of Public Health and the State of California is adding it to the list of required vaccinations found in the health and safety code.
“At this time, the district finds no educational value in transferring vaccine-hesitant students to an independent program of study when we are experiencing remarkably high immunization rates across all campuses.”
According to data provided by the district earlier this year, Piedmont Beach Elementary School’s student body was 93.94% vaccinated against COVID-19 with 16 students unvaccinated; Havens Elementary was 95.84% vaccinated with 18 unvaccinated students; Millennium High was 96.43% with two unvaccinated; Piedmont High 99.51% with four unvaccinated; Medium Piedmont 98.2% with unvaccinated students; and Wildwood Elementary was 97.7% vaccinated with six unvaccinated students.
Backtracking on the board’s decision last year to mandate COVID vaccinations, Superintendent Randy Booker’s Sept. 14 report to the school board said that “in the interest of public health, proof of vaccination against COVID-19 COVID-19 is required for all eligible students. All eligible students must receive both doses of vaccine by November 17, 2021. Unvaccinated students will be excluded from in-person school and referred for independent study.
At that time, the school board noted that the decision could be subject to a legal challenge, which it did.
The lawsuit was filed Nov. 28 in Alameda County Superior Court by CDH-CA and PERK, alleging that the Piedmont mandate would require students to be vaccinated or expelled because the district offered no options for distance learning.
Killgore noted that the school board, in response to the legal challenge, revised its vaccination policy in January and added that students must always wear masks when indoors at school. School board president Cory Smegal said this week she had no comment on the lawsuit.
Linda Davis is a longtime correspondent in Piedmont. Reach her with topical advice or feedback at [email protected]