ENCINITAS — A lawsuit calling for the end of school yoga classes on the basis that they violate the separation of church and state resumed in court Monday. The yoga program’s architect, the last witness in the trial, took the stand.
David Miyashiro, assistant superintendent of education services for the Encinitas Union School District (EUSD), crafted the yoga program less than a year ago with input from a curriculum writer.
“Did you have any concern whatsoever that there was any religious component?” asked Judge John Meyer.
“Not at any time,” Miyashiro said.
Much of Miyashiro’s testimony focused on a $533,000 grant from the Jois Foundation that provided the funding for the yoga program, as well as for a nutrition and cooking.
With the grant, the prosecution suggested that the Jois Foundation played a heavy role in creating the yoga program. In their estimation, the Jois Foundation is bent on spreading Ashtanga yoga — a kind of yoga that’s religious.
Miyashiro testified that the grant agreement between the foundation and EUSD initially specified that the Jois Foundation train the yoga teachers. But in reality, the Jois Foundation didn’t coach or certify the 10 instructors who were ultimately hired. He added the Jois Foundation had little influence over the curriculum.
Later, he noted the terms of the grant don’t require that EUSD promote any religious or spiritual values.
During cross-examination, attorney Dean Broyles, who brought the lawsuit, noted that Candy Brown, a religious studies professor, testified last month that Ashtanga yoga is the most spiritual type of yoga.
Broyles followed that by asking whether Miyashiro researched Ashtanga yoga when writing the program’s curriculum.
But Miyashiro said Brown’s testimony isn’t the definitive word on whether Ashtanga yoga is religious.
“At the time that I wrote the grant, my understanding of Ashtanga yoga was what I observed prior,” Miyashiro said. “So no, I had no idea it was someone’s opinion that it’s a widely practiced religious form of yoga.”
Regardless, he said, EUSD is practicing its own form of yoga that promotes health and relaxation — not Ashtanga yoga.
The yoga program began at five of the nine district schools this past fall. In January, it launched at the remaining EUSD schools.
Two months after the district introduced yoga, Miyashiro noted that parents voiced concerns during a school board meeting. They argued the yoga indoctrinates students with religion — the catalyst for the lawsuit.
In response to them, Miyashiro said EUSD struck Sanskrit writings from the lessons. But the curriculum remained largely intact.
“Rather than try to convince people language is not religion, let’s just remove that barrier and continue the good work we’re doing.”
The yoga trial started last month. Closing arguments will begin Tuesday. And the judge indicated he will issue a ruling on the legality of the program Wednesday morning.
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