Los Angeles charter students sue to stop vaccine mandate, claim school ‘segregated’ them ‘behind barriers’

Los Angeles charter students sue to stop vaccine mandate, claim school ‘segregated’ them ‘behind barriers’

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Parents and students at a Los Angeles charter school have filed a lawsuit to stop a vaccine mandate that allegedly prevented unvaccinated children from attending class. 

The children said they felt “segregated” and “discriminated against.”

“Female students were segregated, harassed, and threatened with suspension just for trying to participate in their classes, and we will prove in court that this is unjust and unlawful,” Sharon McKeeman, founder of Let Them Breathe, a nonprofit organization that is representing the students and parents in a lawsuit against the school, told Fox News Digital on Sunday.

Let Them Breathe shared videos of the students protesting after New West Charter School allegedly refused to let them in when school reopened on Jan. 18, 2022. The organization claimed that the students were segregated “behind barriers.”

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“We’re being refused of the right to attend school,” one student claims in a video. “We feel segregated and discriminated against,” adds another.

New West Charter School told Fox News Digital that it had implemented a vaccine mandate for students after winter break and had achieved 96% compliance, but “six students who did not follow the new policy still attempted to participate in classes.” The school asked the students to leave, but they refused.

“The students proceeded to stage a sit-in directly behind designated areas for student PCR screenings on campus which was cordoned off with tape,” the school added. “New West Charter School administration notified local authorities who came to campus and helped alleviate the disruption.”

Students at New West Charter School who were prevented from going to class because they are unvaccinated.

Students at New West Charter School who were prevented from going to class because they are unvaccinated. (Let Them Breathe)

New West Charter said it informed parents of the vaccine mandate last October, notifying them that every student would need to provide proof of vaccination and a negative COVID-19 test to be allowed on campus, “just like every indoor establishment in Los Angeles is doing.” 

The school also said that it provided an “independent study option” for students who did not take the jab. “Parents who chose not to vaccinate their children knew what options they had available other than returning to campus.”

Let Them Breathe is challenging the vaccine mandate, however. McKeeman told Fox News Digital that the lawsuit against New West Charter echoes the lawsuit her that Let Them Breathe (through its initiative Let Them Choose) won against the San Diego Unified School District’s vaccine mandate in December.

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“New West Charter School’s student vaccine mandate is even more egregious than San Diego Unified’s” mandate had been, McKeeman said. She noted that “New West is mandating for ages 12 and up, which is not even FDA approved.” The vaccine has been approved for children between the ages of 5 and 11.

“We have filed a lawsuit against New West arguing that they are violating state law by mandating this new vaccine, not allowing personal belief exemptions, and segregating and denying unvaccinated students their education,” McKeeman added.

Among other things, the lawsuit claims that New West Charter discriminates against some unvaccinated students, violating the Equal Protection Clause of the California Constitution.

Nicole Rieck (a teacher and a member of Let Them Breathe’s board) is on the left, and Let Them Breathe Founder Sharon McKeeman is on the right. 

Nicole Rieck (a teacher and a member of Let Them Breathe’s board) is on the left, and Let Them Breathe Founder Sharon McKeeman is on the right.  (Let Them Breathe)

The vaccine mandate allows for an approved medical exemption, but does not provide for religious or personal belief exemptions. It also grants “conditional admission” without vaccination for foster youth, homeless students, migrants, students in a military family, or those with an individualized education program.

The lawsuit faults New West Charter’s policy for treating these unvaccinated children “more favorably than other unvaccinated children,” and for allowing unvaccinated children from other schools to participate in sports on the campus, while denying that right to the students behind the lawsuit.

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The lawsuit also claims that New West Charter broke California law by imposing vaccine mandate without a personal beliefs exemption in accordance with Health and Safety Code section 120335, by violating students’ right to privacy, and by denying California children the “fundamental right to a free public education.”

The lawsuit says the vaccine mandate is preempted by state law, meaning that the school has no authority to issue such a mandate because the state of California has taken up authority on this issue. Let Them Breathe won the legal challenge against San Diego Unified School District on this very issue. 

“The sole function of this Court is to determine whether the Roadmap is preempted by state law,” Judge John Meyer wrote in his ruling. He ruled that “the field of school vaccine mandates has been fully occupied by the State, and the [SDUSD policy] directly conflicts with state law.”

Let Them Breathe legal team: Sharon McKeeman in the middle, Lee Andelin on the left, Arie Spangler on the right.

Let Them Breathe legal team: Sharon McKeeman in the middle, Lee Andelin on the left, Arie Spangler on the right. (Let Them Breathe)

After the events of Jan. 18, the New West Charter Governance Council, which consists of three NWC parents, three community representatives, three NWC teachers, and one NWC staff member, released a statement in support of the mandate.

“With 96% of students at New West Charter vaccinated, it is clear the vast majority of parents support the vaccination policy,” the council said. The council added that parents requested a vaccine policy, and the school worked with them to develop the current policy. 

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“While we are extremely disappointed in the actions of a small group of families who do not support the vaccination policy, the council and NWC parents believe it is the right thing to do for all our students,” the council added. “It is unfortunate that individuals not affiliated with the school are using our children for their political gain.”

More children have been hospitalized for COVID-19 with the omicron variant of the COVID-19 disease than with previous variants. Even so, children are far less likely to experience severe symptoms from the disease. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 596 U.S. children between the ages of 5 and 18 have died with COVID-19 as of Jan. 19, 2022, or 0.07 percent of the 848,388 deaths in the U.S. population overall. 

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