An assistant principal is in the middle of a legal battle after her elementary school ended her yoga program and transferred her to another location — a move she says was prompted by parents who said the practice was not Christian.
Bonnie Cole, a Georgia educator who introduced the yoga program during the 2014-2015 school year, said she implemented breathing and stretching exercises as a way of reducing stress and encouraging relaxation in the classroom.
This upset parents who objected to yoga on religious grounds, even though Cole says the program was not religious.
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Cole claims Bullard Elementary gave into the parents’ pressure, and sued the Cobb County School District in 2017 after her program was “halted” and she was transferred to another school — one that was further away from her home.
A federal judge recently refused the school district’s request for summary and said the case will go to trial.
In her lawsuit, Cole maintains that the yoga program was not rooted in religion, but still prompted complaints from some Christian parents. In 2016, upset parents held a prayer rally for “Jesus to rid the school of Buddhism,” Cole’s lawsuit says.
It also alleges that the school district was being hypocritical because emails containing “Christian-based Daily Scripture Devotionals” were sent to all staff during the time she worked at the school.
The lawsuit contends the school system violated the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution by adopting the “religious perspective” of complaining parents who said the practices did not align with their Christian beliefs.
The school system said there was no religious motivation to her transfer. Attorneys for the school system wrote in a court filing that the disruption at the school was to a point that it made Cole “unable to effectively lead her staff and her students moving forward.”
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Debate around the yoga was heated before the lawsuit.
In 2016, Bullard Elementary held a meeting with parents to address the “many misconceptions” around the school’s yoga program, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.
“While we have been practicing de-stressing techniques in many classrooms for years, there have been some recent practices associated with mindfulness that are offensive to some,” the school’s principal wrote in an email to parents at the time.
The principal said students would not be allowed to say the word “namaste” or put their hands to their hearts while mediating or doing yoga. Students were also prevented from colouring mandalas, symbols associated with Hinduism and Buddhism.
Yoga causing divides in schools
This isn’t the first time yoga has been a topic of controversy in schools.
In 2015, the University of Ottawa scrapped their free yoga classes after concerns of cultural appropriation.
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In 2017, a Vaughn, Ont. mother was upset when her child took part in yoga at their school after she asked for a religious accommodation that excused her from the activity, the Toronto Star reported.
The mother told the outlet her family is Roman Catholic and doesn’t do yoga because it’s rooted in Hinduism.
With files from the Associated Press