Debate over School Yoga Program Heats Up

School board trustees got an ear full from both supporters and opponents during an informational session Tuesday.

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. 

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Lynn Marr December 09, 2012 at 12:18 AM
Baird wrongly directed Trustee Mo Muir, whom many of us voted for, due to her position on surplus school Pacific View (that PV should remain public, but could be leased out as an art center, within the current zoning) that she should recuse herself. EUSD's Board of Trustees is Baird's "boss," NOT the other way around. To pressure a Trustee to recuse herself is disenfranchising us, who voted for her and/or her husband, Encinitas Councilmember Mark Muir BECAUSE of their independent but shared perspectives on saving donated land, for public use. Although the lawsuit has been dismissed, Baird has NOW, belatedly, pressured Mo to recuse herself from the PV issue, because he is attempting to STIFLE DISSENT! Mark Muir gave me permission to share this, which he recently wrote to me in an e-mail: "when Mo asked Tim why she was excluded from the vote he stated `The Board will be discussing various strategies that may or may not include legal actions or possible discussions with the City. Because Mark represents the City as a council member, it would not be appropriate for you to be part of those conversations and decisions.' She stated publicly at the meeting that she did not agree with his or their counsel's opinion but will accept their professional and paid for advice." Councilmember Muir has now written to the the Fair Political Practices Commission re this alleged conflict, & we're waiting to hear back. Normally, conflicts involve private interests.
Robert Paulson December 09, 2012 at 12:23 AM
Don't grind that ax too sharp or you'll cut yourself.
Lynn Marr December 09, 2012 at 06:23 AM
Robert, from my perspective, and to those of us who have been working for years to save Pacific View from privatization, Superintendent Tim Baird is the one grinding his axe, attempting to cut us off from part of our heritage, our community character, & an irreplaceable asset. I was disappointed that no public speakers addressed Baird's raise. Previously, the trustee Gregg Sonken and Maureen Muir had voted against a raise, as Baird already makes $200,000 plus benefits, for being superintendent of EUSD, which is $65,000 more than he was making in Ojai as Superintendent of OUSD, in 2008. Initially, Gregg and Mo voted no on the raise. One trustee was absent, so with a tie vote, no raise was given. But soon thereafter, another meeting was scheduled. I didn't know until afterwards. Gregg changed his vote, so the final outcome was 4-1, with Mo voting no. I feel his actions on that issue are relevant here, where he failed to give parents adequate notice, and neglected to offer them alternatives to the Yoga program, as an "opt out." I also feel it's relevant that he wrongly has told the one Trustee who disagrees with his course of actions re privatization of Pacific View, that she must recuse herself, when Government Code that specifies what constitutes conflicts of interest has nothing that approaches two elected officials being married, except when one public entity is voting on a matter that involves compensation for members of another public entity.
Tim von Zweck December 12, 2012 at 05:49 AM
Physiological, Cognitive and Psychological Benefits of Yoga Here is a list of the physiological, cognitive and psychological benefits of Yoga: PHYSIOLOGICAL and PHYSICAL BENEFITS Reduced sympathetic dominance/increased parasympathetic activation Reduced blood pressure Reduced resting heart rate Reduced cholesterol Reduced blood glucose levels Improved lipid profile Decrease in inflammatory markers Improved endothelial function Decreased body weight Reduced j-hip ratio Increased strength Increased core stability Improved balance Improved lung function Improved breath control Improved immune system function Reduced muscle tension Reduction in chronic pain, including lower back pain COGNITIVE BENEFITS Improved concentration Sharper focus Increased mental clarity Increased ability to be present PSYCHOLOGICL (mental health, emotional) BENEFITS Reduced sleep and sleep disturbance Reduced anxiety and negative affect Reduced depression Increased feelings of well-being Positive shifts in locus of control Improved coping Adopting a Yoga Prac
Lynn Marr December 12, 2012 at 08:12 AM
I feel the program offers positive benefits. Superintendent Baird should have given parents better notice and alternatives to opt out, if they choose. The controversy could have been avoided by better administration, through the Superintendent, who just was voted a raise, after requesting that it come before the Board of Trustees, again. The first time, the vote was two to two, with one Trustee absent. The second time, one of the Trustees apparently succumbed to pressure, and the vote was 4-1, with none absent. Baird was already making $200,000 PLUS benefits, before the raise. This seems obscene in a time of economic decline, for many, or stagnation, and when many teachers have been given pink slips.


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