Trial on school yoga classes resumes

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SAN DIEGO — Trial resumed Monday in the case of a couple who sued the Encinitas Union School District to stop yoga instruction, which they contend has religious overtones.

The lawsuit was filed by the National Center for Law and Policy on behalf of Stephen and Jennifer Sedlock, whose children attend one of the district’s nine schools. On its website, the nonprofit Christianity-based center said its focuses on the protection and promotion of religious freedom,yoga the sanctity of life, traditional marriage, parental rights and other civil liberties.

The plaintiffs contends that Ashtanga yoga is religious in nature, and that opting out costs students physical education time. They are not seeking any money, only an end to the yoga program.

Controversy over the program erupted last year as the district began to develop a health and wellness curriculum that includes yoga.

The program was funded by a $500,000 grant from the K.P. Jois Foundation, which promotes Ashtanga yoga, a fast-paced form of yoga of progressively more demanding poses with synchronized breathing.

The trial began May 20 and was expected to last two to three days in the courtroom of Superior Court Judge John Meyer. On the third day, the trial went on hiatus, with both parties saying they wanted to call additional witnesses before making their closing arguments.

The parties have agreed to have Meyer decide the issue, so there is no jury.

Superintendent Timothy Baird testified at trial that parents are allowed to opt out of yoga, but the children of those who do will receive less PE time than participating students. However, they will still receive at least the state-required minimum of PE minutes, he said.

He denied that the foundation hired yoga teachers for the district or had a hand in writing the curriculum.

The superintendent also testified that the pace of the yoga exercises and terminology have been changed to make it “kid friendly,” but the poses remain the same as in the adult version.

Only part of the full health and wellness program has been implemented around the district, according to Baird.

“We’re constantly writing the curriculum — it’s not done,” Baird said.

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