The teaching of yoga in Encinitas public schools does not represent an illegal attempt at religious indoctrination, an appeals court ruled Friday.
A three-judge panel of the 4th District Court of Appeal upheld a decision by the San Diego Superior Court that the yoga program in the Encinitas Union School District is “devoid of any religious, mystical or spiritual trappings.”
Under a three-year grant from the K.P. Jois Foundation, which promotes Ashtanga yoga, yoga exercises are taught in twice-weekly, 30-minute classes.
The parents of two students had sued on grounds that the yoga program promotes Hinduism while the district discourages any display of Christianity.
Dean Broyles, attorney for the Escondido-based National Center for Law and Policy. representing the parents, said that the program “represents a serious breach of the public trust” and a violation of state law that prohibits religious instruction in public schools.
Tim Baird, superintendent of the K-6 district in northern San Diego County, said the program is part of an effort to teach students the benefits of exercise and healthful eating.
“We are not teaching religion, we are not instructing anyone in religious dogma,” Baird said. “Yoga is very mainstream.”
Parents can opt to have their children excused from the yoga classes.
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,” he said.
The school district hired the yoga instructors and controlled the curriculum, the appeals court said.
There was no evidence that the foundation “attempted to monitor or influence the yoga program in order to ensure that any purported religious goals were met,” the court’s decision said.