The Sweetwater Union High School District pushed back its early February deadline for its student athletic and extracurricular vaccine mandate. 

The district approved its vaccination mandate last month that requires students who are at least 16 and employees to submit proof of vaccination or exemptions by Feb.1. District officials announced in a statement that the mandate won't go into effect until at least the start of off-season sports in May 2022, and for in-person instruction in the 2022-2023 school year.

Despite this announcement, the mandate for employees is still in place and requires proof of full vaccination by March 15. According to Vernon Moore, Sweetwater’s chief of educational equity and support services, the deadline is established under state law for public schools to notify employees of potential termination. 

Under the district's plan, employees who fail to comply with the vaccine mandate would be forced to resign or retire at the end of the school year. 

San Diego County’s largest school district recently was under fire for their proposed vaccine mandate that required students 16 and older to be fully vaccinated for in-person instruction without allowing religious or personal belief exemptions. A lawsuit was successfully filed by the group “Let Them Choose” and Superior Court Judge John S. Meyer sided with the group by stating San Diego Unified's mandate was in conflict with state law. 

The group, which is an initiative supported by the organization “Let them Breathe”, made similar threats and warning to SUHSD in a demand letter. In contrast to their neighboring district, Sweetwater said it will offer religious exemptions to students.

“We need to make sure it’s supported legally and ensure this isn’t something that’s going to be a legal liability,” Moore said of the student vaccine mandate.

The implementation of Sweetwater's vaccine mandate remains unclear due to the judge's ruling, according to Moore. District officials say that timeline will be clarified upon full approval of vaccines from the U.S. Food and Drug administration for younger children. The vaccine currently has emergency use authorization for children under 16, but not full FDA approval.

Students returned to in-person classes on Tuesday amid a surge in COVID-19 infections caused by the highly infectious Omicron variant throughout the county. During the break, the district distributed COVID-19 self-testing kits as a precautionary measure. 

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