Testimony ends in school yoga case: Encinitas Union School District sued over yoga classes

Couple sues, wants classes banned

ENCINITAS, Calif. - Testimony concluded 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, the sanctity of life, traditional marriage, parental rights and other civil liberties.

The plaintiffs contend 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.

During Monday's testimony, Encinitas Union School District Assistant Superintendent David Miyashiro testified there were never any concerns about a religious component.

Miyashiro told the court that the K.P. Jois Foundation had little or no influence in the hiring of 10 yoga teachers, although four of them had some connection to the foundation which promotes Ashtanga yoga.

Miyashiro testified that religious aspects were left out of the courses taught in the Encinitas Union School District, and said that when some parents complained about some of the Sanskrit writings included in the teachings, they were removed from the curriculum.

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.

Closing arguments for both sides will begin Tuesday morning, and the judge plans to announce his verdict Wednesday.

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