ENCINITAS: School district sued over yoga program

SAN DIEGO (AP) – An attorney representing a family bent out of shape
over a public school yoga program in the beach city of Encinitas filed a
lawsuit Wednesday to stop the district-wide classes.

In the lawsuit filed in San Diego Superior Court,
attorney Dean Broyles argued that the twice weekly, 30-minute classes
are inherently religious, in violation of the separation between church
and state.

The plaintiffs are Stephen and Jennifer Sedlock and their children, who are students in the Encinitas Union School District.

“EUSD's Ashtanga yoga program represents a serious
breach of the public trust,” Broyles said. “Compliance with the clear
requirements of law is not optional or discretionary. This is frankly
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.”

Superintendent Timothy B. Baird said he had not
seen the lawsuit and could not directly comment on it, but he defended
the district's decision to integrate yoga into its curriculum this year.

The district is believed to be the first in the
country to have full-time yoga teachers at every one of its schools. The
lessons are funded by a $533,000, three-year grant from the Jois
Foundation, a nonprofit group that promotes Asthanga yoga. Since the
district started the classes at its nine schools in January, Baird said
teachers and parents have noticed students are calmer, using the
breathing practices to release stress before tests.

“We're not teaching religion,” he said. “We teach a
very mainstream physical fitness program that happens to incorporate
yoga into it. It's part of our overall wellness program. The vast
majority of students and parents support it.”

Baird said the lawsuit would not deter the district from offering the classes.

Broyles said his clients took legal action after
the district refused to take their complaints into account. He said the
Sedlocks are not seeking monetary damages but are asking the court to
intervene and suspend the program.

The lawsuit notes Harvard-educated religious
studies professor Candy Gunther Brown found the district's program is
pervasively religious, having its roots in Hindu, Buddhist, Taoist and
metaphysical beliefs and practices.

While the lawsuit names only one family, dozens of parents feel the same way and oppose the program, Broyles said.

Children who have opted out of the program have
been harassed and bullied, the plaintiffs allege. The children who opt
out also are missing out on 60 of the 100 weekly minutes of physical
activity required by the state, since they usually sit and read during
the yoga lessons, the plaintiffs say.

Yoga is now taught at public schools from the rural
mountains of West Virginia to the bustling streets of Brooklyn as a way
to ease stress in today's pressure-packed world where even
kindergartners say they feel tense about keeping up with their busy
schedules. But most classes are part of an after-school program, or are
offered only at a few schools or by some teachers in a district.

The Jois Foundation says it believes the program will become a national model to help schools teach students life skills.

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