School board gives yoga a go

Aspen Daily News, Sep. 10, 2002
By Adam Preskill

The Aspen School District Board washed its hands of the yoga-in-public-schools debate at its meeting Monday, voting 3-1 in favor of the proposed program.

The decision was made pending approval from the school district’s attorney.

The attorney will review the curriculum for potential violations of separation of church and state, recommend any necessary deletions or modifications of religious or religiously suggestive language, and pass the revised, legally acceptable curriculum on to the elementary school administration.

If the attorney determines that no amount of semantic adjustments would make the program’s curriculum legally safe, the program will not be implemented.

There was no decision on whether the word “yoga” would have to come out of the curriculum, nor was there an indication of when the attorney might grant or deny his approval so that the students can actually begin the program, which was scheduled to start Sept. 3.

The program was delayed so that the board could consider objections from concerned parents that the physical elements of yoga could not be separated from the religious and spiritual history of the practice.

While it ultimately granted the program conditional approval, the board verged on postponing a final decision until an indefinite date.

Superintendent Tom Farrell began the discussion with his recommendation that Betsy Fifield, a representative from Aspen Center for New Medicine, which is proposing the yoga program as a part of a physical- and mental-health education program called the Children’s Health Initiative, first revise the program.

After Fifield “took out anything that could be perceived as having religious implications,” Farrell said that the curriculum would then be read by the school district’s attorney, members of the Aspen Inter-Faith Council and several other administrators. All of those parties would then report back to him, Farrell suggested, so that he could make a recommendation to the school board at that time.

But some members of the board found further postponement of a decision on the issue objectionable.

“This has huge implications, and I think that we as a board ought to face it head on. I don’t think you need that (additional review). We’re passing the buck. I think this is much ado about nothing, and we ought to recognize it,” said John Seigel.

Fred Peirce was also in favor of going forward with a decision.

“I think it’s a mistake to leave it hanging,” Peirce said.

He argued that legal approval was the only potential roadblock.

“I would like to see this addressed by our attorney. Obviously, we’re not going to adopt a program that our attorney believes violates (the First Amendment right to separation of) church and state,” Peirce said.

The decision rendered does not subject the yoga program to any additional review by the board. The attorney will either approve it or not, leaving the rest up to elementary school principal Barb Pitchford and her staff.

But board president Augie Reno, who cast the only vote of opposition, seemed uncomfortable with relinquishing practical details to Pitchford’s administration.

For several minutes, the meeting devolved from a review of the actual program to a discussion between Reno and Pitchford about who was to blame for the public-relations disaster that resulted from miscommunications during the program approval process.

And just before their final vote, Reno disputed board member Alice Davis’ statement that she felt comfortable granting the program conditional approval and letting the administration handle the details.

“I guess I’m trusting them to do their jobs and implement the program,” Davis said.

“I don’t have that trust right now,” Reno said.

While Reno opposed the final decision, Seigel, Peirce and Davis passed the motion. Board member Jill Uris declined to make her opinion known, abstaining on the grounds that since she voted last, her vote didn’t count anyway.

Should the school district attorney approve the program curriculum, about half of the elementary school student body will begin doing yoga – if it’s still called that – for about 25 minutes a week.


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Religion News Blog posted this on Wednesday September 11, 2002.
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