ENCINITAS — Although no action was scheduled to be taken following a district report on a controversial new yoga program, many packed into the Encinitas Union School District board meeting Tuesday night to voice arguments for or against it.
Earlier this year, the district began a yoga program at five of the district’s nine campuses.
The program, which is designed to promote fitness among students, is being funded by a $534,000 grant from the Jois Foundation, a group that supports Ashtanga yoga and wellness programs in schools.
The program’s inception has not been without controversy. Detractors of the program have accused the district of pushing religious beliefs associated with Ashtanga yoga onto kids.
In response, supporters have said the program is strictly for giving kids a mental and physical boost, not religious indoctrination.
Previously, attorney David Boyles had threatened legal action on behalf of those opposed to the program.
At the meeting Boyles argued that “worshipful positions,” “yoga breathing” and “the imagery” of Ashtanga yoga can’t be untangled from Hinduism beliefs, and said that the district is violating separation of church and state.
“Let us please stop playing transparently deceptive word games, and finally admit it to ourselves,” Boyles said.
In response to Boyle, attorney David Peck said he and other lawyers would represent the district pro bono should a lawsuit be filed. But Peck noted he hoped the issue “isn’t resolved in the courtroom.”
Peck said his role as a parent also brought him to the meeting. He countered that those against the program are taking information about Ashtanga yoga out of context and misrepresenting a secular program.
“It’s not what we’re reading on a website, it’s not what the foundation says, it’s not what a guru says in India,” he said. It’s about what an instructor “will be teaching my son,” he added.
A fourth-grade teacher vouched for the program, which she said has been misconstrued by some parents.
“All it does is help our students; it helps our students become centered; it helps them calm their minds,” she said.
Trustee Carol Skiljan said she sympathized with parents who are concerned about the program and said more work is needed to find a solution.
But from her research sitting in on the program, she believes yoga taught at schools in the district is the “garden variety” and not promoting religious viewpoints.
Students in all grades take part in the program twice a week for 30 minutes.
Trustee Maureen Muir said the district should provide students with more choices, rather than only dedicating time to yoga.
Prior to public and board comments, school officials covered the goals of the yoga program during a report about health and fitness in the district.
David Miyashiro, assistant superintendent of educational services, said the program was specially tailored with fitness standards dictated by the State and Federal government in mind. He added that the program has emotional benefits, including aiding concentration and positive thinking.
He noted that parents who do not want their kids in yoga can opt out. When asked during a break in the meeting how many kids had be pulled at a parent’s request, he said “less than a dozen.”
The program is scheduled to debut at the four other schools in the district in January.
Superintendent Tim Baird fielded commonly asked questions from letters that had been sent to the district over the last month.
Baird clarified that the district, not the Jois Foundation, sets the curriculum for the program.
“The district is in charge of all aspects of this program,” Baird said.
He noted some parents had asked about the difference between regular yoga and Ashtanga yoga.
Baird said that Ashtanga yoga “tweaks” some of the basic yoga poses, adding that the version taught in schools is not steeped in and doesn’t forward any kind of religious affiliation.