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Lawsuit filed to end yoga instruction in Encinitas schools

Yoga teacher Jackie Bergenon instructs students at Paul Ecke Central Elementary School in Encinitas. Credit: Eduardo Contreras / U-T San Diego

A civil rights lawsuit was filed Wednesday aimed at stopping the teaching of yoga in Encinitas public schools on the grounds that yoga represents religious indoctrination.

Having the program in the nine schools of the K-6 district "represents a serious breach of the public trust" and a violation of state law that prohibits religious instruction in public schools, said Dean Broyles, attorney for the Escondido-based National Center for Law and Policy.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of a couple with two children in the district. It seeks to have the courts block the program, which began last fall. Students receive two 30-minute yoga sessions each week under the program, which is supported by a $533,000 grant from a local studio that teaches Ashtanga yoga.

Tim Baird, superintendent of the Encinitas Union School District, said that he was disappointed that a lawsuit had been filed. Officials believe the program is worthwhile and does not represent religious indoctrination, he added.

"We are not teaching religion, we are not instructing anyone in religious dogma," said Baird. "Yoga is very mainstream."

The program, Baird said, is part of an effort to teach students the benefits of exercise and healthful eating. The district's use of yoga is being studied by the researchers from the University of San Diego and the University of Virginia.

The district, Baird said, is already negotiating to renew the grant from the Jois Foundation, which is supported by hedge-fund billionaire Paul Tudor Jones II and his wife, Sonia.

The parents of 30 children have opted not to have their children participate, Baird said.

But Broyles said the ability for parents to opt out is not sufficient. The program "is extremely divisive and has unfortunately led to the harassment, discrimination, bullying and segregation of children who, for good reason, opt out," said Broyles.

The lawsuit, filed in San Diego County Superior Court, does not seek damages but asks that the court order a halt to the yoga program. Yoga, the lawsuit asserts, "is inherently and pervasively religious, having its roots firmly planted in Hindu, Buddhist, Taoist and western metaphysical religious beliefs and practices."


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Photo: Yoga teacher Jackie Bergenon instructs students at Paul Ecke Central Elementary School in Encinitas. Credit: Eduardo Contreras / U-T San Diego

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