by Stacy Brandt
October 24, 2012
U-T San Diego

School district threatened with legal action by upset parents

ENCINITAS — The fight over a yoga program in the Encinitas Union School District continued this week, with a local law firm offering to represent the district pro bono if it’s sued by a group of parents who want the yoga lessons yanked.

On Monday, an attorney with Encinitas-based Coast Law Group emailed district Superintendent Tim Baird and offered the firm’s services. The law group started in 2004 and focuses on environmental preservation and public interest matters, according to its website.

The district has been threatened with legal action by Escondido attorney Dean Broyles, who wrote to Baird earlier this month demanding that the yoga program be dropped. Broyles said he represents parents who consider the lessons to be religious indoctrination and unconstitutional.

Attorneys at Coast Law Group — including four who have children attending school in the district — feel differently.

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“We are very proud of EUSD and believe the yoga program is a positive addition which fosters healthy lifestyles,” attorney David Peck wrote in an email. “While we are steadfastly opposed to the promotion of any religion in EUSD schools, we believe the yoga program is objectively devoid of religious influence.”

Several parents who support the yoga program approached the Coast Law Group after others complained to the district about the lessons, said Seyamack Kouretchian, a managing partner at the law firm.

Students at half of the Encinitas district’s nine schools started the yoga exercises last month, and the other campuses will get the classes beginning in January. All grade levels participate in the lessons twice a week for 30 minutes at a time.

The effort is being paid for with a $533,000 grant from the Jois Foundation, a nonprofit organization that promotes Ashtanga yoga across the world.

Several parents approached the district school board earlier this month to say they were concerned about the yoga lessons, which many of them said they consider inherently religious.

District officials have said they have stripped all religion from the classes, and that the yoga exercises are simply part of a bigger push to improve students’ health and focus.

Meanwhile, a Hindu group praised the district this week for starting the program, calling it “a step in the right direction.”

“I think yoga is very healthful for younger children, and everybody actually,” said Rajan Zed, president of the Universal Society of Hinduism.

Zed said that although yoga has very spiritual roots, he thinks it can also be a physical activity with no religious connotations.