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California parents threaten to sue school board over yoga classes

Lia Grainger
Shine On
October 23, 2012

If a child practices yoga, is that child Hindu?

A group of parents in Encinitas, California fear the answer to this rather curious question is yes. They're afraid that yoga lessons taught in the school district are a form of religious indoctrination, and are threatening to sue the school board if the classes aren't pulled.

District superintendent Tim Baird received a letter from attorney Dean Broyles on behalf of the worried Encinitas parents, in which the lawyer claimed the yoga program is unconstitutional. He threatened legal action if the classes are not stopped, reports the North County Times.

"There's a deep concern that the Encinitas Union School District is using taxpayer resources to promote Ashtanga yoga and Hinduism, a religion system of beliefs and practices," Dean tells the paper.

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If you're reading this on Canada's West Coast, particularly in the Lululemon mecca that is Vancouver, it's likely you can't do a sun salutation without smacking a decidedly non-Hindu yoga practitioner upside the head.

The fact that millions of North Americans practice yoga for non-religious reasons like stress release and exercise, or that the Encinitas school board has assured them that all religious content has been removed from the classes, have not swayed the Encinitas parents, some of whom are reportedly concerned the poses are an invitation for Hindu deities to enter the body.

We tend to think of the inclination to sue willy-nilly as a rather American trait, but school boards here in Canada are not immune to legal action from concerned parents.

According to Maclean's magazine, bullying-related lawsuits have popped up in Vancouver, Winnipeg, Ottawa and Waterloo. Parents are reportedly fed up with policies they say are ineffective at dealing with the bullying problem -- a problem that has been getting international media attention in recent weeks and months.

Other legal actions are less serious and more absurd. Back in 2009, two lawyers from Calgary launched a legal battle to negotiate a "Differentiated Homework Plan." It essentially exempts their three kids from doing homework, which they successfully argued does not improve academic performance, reports The Guardian.

The most recent high profile Canadian lawsuit brought against a school board is likely the case against the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board, filed in early September by Greek Orthodox dentist Steve Tourloukis.

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Citing religious beliefs, he requested to be given advanced notice whenever the topics of marriage, family or sex are to be discussed in the classroom, so he can decide if he wants to prep his children or pull them from the class altogether. The Globe and Mail reports that Tourloukis claims his demands have not been met, so he's taking it to court.

"Generally, most concerns are raised when a parent believes there is a conflict between the subject matter being taught and the child's age, abilities or faith," advises Sandi Urban-Hall, president of the Canadian School Boards Association. "The relationship between home and school is important, and respectful two-way communication and mutual problem solving ensures that issues are addressed before conflict arises."

She says that the vast majority of concerns are addressed through on-going communication between home and school.

"Parents should discuss any concerns that they have with their child's classroom teacher and principal," says Urban-Hall.  "Parents who are not feeling heard by someone at the school should request a meeting with the district's superintendent to discuss it further."

Is there anything that would prompt you to sue your child's school board? Do the complaints of these parents merit legal action? Tell us in the comments

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