An effort to bring stress relief to students attending one of the nine schools of the Encinitas Union School District in California has resulted in a lawsuit. A gift to the school district from a non-profit organization called the Jois Foundation enabled the district to offer yoga classes in all of its schools.
The Jois Foundation’s focus is promoting an interest in Asthanga yoga, and they felt that this program would serve as a pilot for similar efforts. Although the yoga practice in the schools had been virtually stripped of all religious overtones, some parents took exception to the addition.
Participation in the yoga program was voluntary with students learning the crisscross applesauce pose instead of the lotus position. Teachers believed that by not using the Sanskrit language in the classes and by not emphasizing the cultural and religious underpinnings of yoga, they were abiding by the standard division of church and state. After just a few months, teachers noticed that students were calmer in the classroom, and that they were utilizing beneficial breathing techniques to prepare for stressful situations like major tests.
Nonetheless, parents Stephen and Jennifer Sedlock objected to the yoga program. In their complaint, they alleged that the practice of yoga is inherently religious and that their children, who had opted out of the program, had been bullied as a result of their non-participation. The Sedlocks sought to have the program suspended rather than seeking a monetary award in the case.
School Superintendent Timothy B. Baird stressed that the school was “not teaching religion” and that the yoga classes were part of a “mainstream physical fitness program.” Superior Court Judge John S. Meyer agreed with this assessment, saying that the way the district was teaching yoga did not promote any religion. Judge Meyer went even farther in his decision, stating that this was an instance of “trial by Wikipedia” wherein the plaintiffs were relying on information from dubious sources.
The Sedlocks are likely to appeal the decision, but for the time being, interested students still have an opportunity to study yoga in the Encinitas Union School District.