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By Collin Breaux

Rejection of COVID-19 vaccines for school campuses and workplaces continues on—and, this time, is going to the courts.

Community college employees in San Diego County and South Orange County, in conjunction with one student, have filed a lawsuit to stop the college districts’ requirement that they be vaccinated to attend classes and work on campus.

The 416-page complaint, filed in federal court on April 1, alleges that the vaccination requirements set by the community college districts of South Orange County, Grossmont-Cuyamaca and San Diego are unconstitutional and discriminatory to those who do not want to get the shot.

Michele Clock, a spokesperson for the Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District, said Monday, April 11, that the district isn’t able to comment on pending litigation.

As of this posting, representatives from the other two districts had not responded to requests seeking comment.

Jess Perez, an administrative assistant in the athletics program at Saddleback College, is one of the seven plaintiffs. Perez, who has worked at Saddleback College for more than 20 years, said he refuses to get the shot because of his deeply held beliefs as a born-again Christian.

He has not gotten vaccines of any kind for the past 20 years, including flu shots.

“The word of God says we are to take care of our bodies because we believe He resides in our bodies,” Perez said in a phone interview on Thursday, April 7. “I don’t want to defile the temple that God lives in. He created all individuals to be free.”

The South Orange County Community College District Board of Trustees voted last year to require vaccinations for employees and students, starting in January. However, exemptions were allowed—which Perez applied for and was granted.

He has to regularly get tested twice a week for COVID-19, which he feels is discriminatory since vaccinated people do not have to undergo regular testing.

“I absolutely hate it when people abuse authority, and become a bully with that authority,” Perez said.

Perez further addressed his opposition to vaccine requirements during a press conference the California Constitutional Rights Foundation held regarding the lawsuit on Monday morning. The COVID-19 vaccine was not a condition of his employment when he was hired, he said Monday.

“I’ve done my job faithfully,” Perez said at the press conference.

Other plaintiffs are from the Grossmont-Cuyamaca and San Diego Community College Districts.

“After 18 years of working for Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District, I was forced to use my vacation pay, then go on unpaid leave because I refuse to be vaccinated due to my sincerely held religious beliefs,” plaintiff Patricia Sparks said in a news release.

“I am facing financial hardship and stress but what is worse, the District tossed my years of dedication and love for Grossmont College for nothing more than a refusal to be injected with a drug that does not stop infection, nor does it stop the transmission,” she continued in the release.

The consensus of medical experts is that the vaccine is safe, helps prevent widespread transmission of COVID-19, and has undergone rigorous and careful development.

In addition to seeking a stop to vaccine and testing requirements, the lawsuit is also intended to put a halt to masking mandates, according to a legal brief.

The employees and student filing the lawsuit contend their college districts conducted pandemic policies “without any reasonable belief that plaintiffs had symptoms, had contracted COVID-19, or had been in close contact with a person known to be infected with COVID-19,” the court filing said.

Perez said whether to get vaccinated should be a personal matter, and not forced on people by employers or the government.

“I really just believe it is everyone’s individual choice to be vaccinated or not vaccinated,” Perez said.

A court hearing date has not yet been set for the lawsuit.

Opposition to vaccination requirements and pandemic protocols has frequently popped up in South Orange County and elsewhere throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, including as it applies to school campuses and students.

Under a California bill recently proposed by State Sen. Richard Pan (D-Sacramento), the COVID-19 vaccine could be added to the list of immunizations students are required to have for school. That bill, though, has not moved forward since being referred to the State Senate’s Health and Education committees in February.

Collin Breaux

Collin Breaux covers San Juan Capistrano and other South Orange County news as the City Editor for The Capistrano Dispatch. Before moving to California, he covered Hurricane Michael, politics and education in Panama City, Florida. He can be reached by email at cbreaux@picketfencemedia.com.                         

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