In a community that is known as an epicenter of yoga in North America, the Encinitas Union School Board heard from more than a dozen speakers divided over yoga instruction within the schools.
The overflow crowd packed the board’s chambers Tuesday as parents, teachers and community members made their voices heard after a presentation of the district wellness program.
Dr. David Miyashiro, Assistant Superintendent of Educational Services reported that the district, composed of nine elementary schools in Encinitas and southern Carlsbad, told the trustees that the “overall goal of the P.E. curriculum is the health and well-being of our children.” He said the inclusion of yoga in the curriculum has helped to meet the statewide standards for physical education, including developing “social and emotional skills.”
The state requires 200 minutes of physical education instruction per 10 days in kindergarten through sixth grade. Several schools rely on classroom teachers rather than a dedicated P.E. instructor to ensure the timeframe is met.
However, beginning this year, the district received a $533,000 grant from the Jois Foundation to incorporate Ashtanga yoga into the curriculum. At least three schools already had some form of yoga instruction prior to the grant. Currently, five are participating, with all of the schools slated to be on board by the spring.
While students are given the choice to opt out of the instruction, Miyashiro told the trustees that very few declined the sessions.
Related: EUSD and Jois Foundation Respond to Concerns About Religious Yoga
Superintendent Dr. Timothy Baird clarified several questions he’d received for the board. “There is no religious instruction,” he said, “only the physical component of yoga is taught.” Baird said the “cultural elements” had been taken out of the yoga program, referring to Sanskrit and any references to the Hindu roots of Ashtanga yoga.
Yet, some parents were not convinced. “Ashtanga yoga is inherently religious and does not belong in our schools,” Stephanie Pena told the trustees. Shawn Welch, whose child attends Capri Elementary agreed. “It is undeniable that yoga is spiritual,” she said.
Escondido attorney Dean Broyles, who demanded in October that the yoga program be scrapped, threatened the district with legal action. Broyles addressed the trustees briefly saying the instruction amounts to religious indoctrination and is therefore unconstitutional.
David Peck, a district parent and an attorney said his firm, The Coast Law Group, was prepared to represent the district pro bono if necessary. “But I really hope this doesn’t result in litigation,” he said. “We’re here because we want the best for our children,” he told the crowd.
Local resident Karen von Dessonneck, 72, said she’s been practicing yoga for 30 years. “I don’t see why there’s such a fuss over this,” she told the trustees as the crowd applauded loudly.
Several parents, a teacher and a district nurse gave anecdotal evidence that the program was a success. Delores Lodel, a mother of two children in a district school said her children love the program. She said it had a calming impact on them and helped them to focus.
Trustee Gregg Sonken asked whether Ashtanga yoga was the best form of practice to incorporate in the curriculum. “I guess I just don’t know enough about the different types,” he said. But he said he was concerned with the controversial nature of the issue. “How are we going to address this division in our community?” he asked the other four trustees.
Trustee Carol Skiljan said she had taken various yoga classes and encouraged him to observe a class at one of the schools. “It was absolutely uplifting to watch those kids,” she said. “It made me want to run out and take a class.”
The board took no action at the meeting, as the agenda item was only informational in nature.