ENCINITAS — Lawyers are bent out of shape about a yoga program at the Encinitas Union School District (EUSD).
The National Center for Law and Policy filed a civil rights lawsuit against the district over its program. The plaintiffs argue the program indoctrinates students with religious beliefs promoted by Ashtanga yoga. But the district insists the program only promotes health, and that the lawsuit won’t stall yoga at its schools in the future.
“My answer hasn’t changed: there is no religious component to this program,” EUSD Superintendent Tim Baird said shortly after the law center issued a press release announcing its intent to sue the district.
EUSD introduced yoga classes to its students in the fall thanks to a $533,000 grant from the Jois Foundation, and the district is in talks with the foundation to continue the program for three more years. Baird said he hasn’t seen the lawsuit yet, but he doesn’t expect it to affect those negotiations.
Rather than seek monetary damages, the lawsuit aims to scrap the program on the grounds that it violates the establishment clause of the constitution, what’s more commonly known as “separation of church and state.”
“This frankly is the clearest case of the state trampling on the religious freedom rights of citizens that I have personally witnessed in my 18 years of practice as a constitutional attorney,” said Dean Broyles, one of the attorneys at the law center, in a press release.
The press release goes on to say: “EUSD’s improperly cozy relationship with the Jois Foundation has entangled the district in an unnecessary and avoidable religious controversy.”
Broyles, who could not be reached for comment by press time, has threatened the district with legal action for several months. He filed the lawsuit on behalf of Stephen and Jennifer Sedlock and their two children, who are students at El Camino Creek.
The law center also argues that the students who were pulled from the program by their parents haven’t been receiving 200 minutes of state-mandated PE every 10 days.
In response, Baird said that the district isn’t technically required to provide an alternative program for the 30 families who opted their children out of the program. Still, he said the district has worked to find “individualized solutions for each of the families,” including a separate PE class at some of the schools. The yoga program counts toward the 200 minutes of required PE in some district schools, but not others like El Camino Creek, Baird said.
Further, Baird said the program’s curriculum was built upon fitness standards dictated by the state government, not any kind of religion.
Baird also noted several law firms have offered to take the district’s case pro bono.
The district started yoga at five of its schools in the fall, and then launched the program at its four remaining schools in January. At most of the schools, students in all grades participate in the program twice a week for 30 minutes. Currently, the University of San Diego is studying how the program affects student behavior and health.
“We’re waiting for those results,” Baird said. “Anecdotally, we’ve heard from students and principals that there are lots of positives to the program — students are more relaxed and better able to study.”
But Broyles’ press release isn’t as optimistic, stating the program has led to “harassment and bullying.”