ENCINITAS — National attention and a legal challenge haven’t slowed down the Encinitas Union School District (EUSD) yoga program.
In fact, the program is due to expand this fall with more teachers thanks to a $1.4 million grant from the Sonima Foundation — a nonprofit previously known as the Jois Foundation.
On Tuesday, the EUSD Board of Trustees accepted the grant at a school board meeting.
EUSD Superintendent Tim Baird said on Monday the number of yoga teachers will jump from 10 to 18 this year. That way, kindergarten through sixth grade students in each school will have access to two yoga teachers.
“We want all of our students to do yoga twice a week,” Baird said.
He noted that the district aimed to have all its students on yoga mats twice a week last school year, but wasn’t able to do so at some schools because there weren’t enough teachers.
“One yoga teacher at a big school can’t get to all the students,” Baird said.
Also, the grant will provide funding for character-development lessons in classrooms, where traits like respect and perseverance will be taught. Baird noted that part of the curriculum is still being ironed out, and so he couldn’t give more details.
A $533,000 grant from the Sonima Foundation last year paved the way for the program. This past fall, yoga launched at five EUSD schools. Several months later, it debuted at the district’s four other campuses.
Baird noted the original $533,000 grant was bumped up to $700,000 last year to reflect unforeseen costs.
Part of that money went toward a University of San Diego study, set to be released at the end of the summer, looking at how yoga affects physical and mental well being among students.
While some parents raved about yoga’s health and behavioral benefits for children, other parents alleged the program promoted Hinduism in schools. And six months ago, lawyer Dean Broyles filed a lawsuit, alleging the program violated the separation of church and state.
However, a San Diego Superior Court judge ruled last month that EUSD yoga passes constitutional muster because it doesn’t promote any religious doctrine.
During the trial, Broyles argued the Sonima Foundation bought its way into the district to spread spirituality. As proof, he cited a EUSD memorandum of agreement that stated the foundation retains the right to hire and certify yoga teachers.
In response, the district said that language was indeed in the memorandum. But in reality, EUSD had full control over hiring and firing yoga teachers, as well as the rest of the program.
In light of the confusion, Baird said the $1.4 million grant spells out that the district is “in complete control” of the program.
“The district is getting a yoga program that helps students,” Baird said. “And Sonima is getting a curriculum it can share with other districts.”
A month ago, Eugene Ruffin, CEO of the Sonima Foundation, said the nonprofit put together a school yoga program that can be exported to districts around the country. EUSD yoga informed that template, he noted.
And he said the foundation’s only purpose is to promote fitness, not religion.
He said the foundation changed its name from Jois to Sonima to emphasize its health goals.
Ruffin could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.