Bends over backward? School says yes to yoga | AspenTimes.com

Bends over backward? School says yes to yoga

Jennifer Davoren
Aspen Times Staff Writer

A divided Aspen School Board approved a student yoga program for Aspen Elementary on Monday, as long as the program gets an OK from the school district’s attorney.

The board’s latest yoga debate included a public apology to parents from one board member who felt there were problems with the program’s initial review process.

Aspen School District Superintendent Tom Farrell began Monday’s discussions with a recommendation to postpone any board action. Instead, Farrell suggested that Yoga Ed., the California-based program Aspen Elementary had hoped to use, should go through additional review.

Farrell proposed that the program’s sponsors at the Aspen Center for New Medicine check the curriculum for material that could be “construed as religious.” The revised Yoga Ed. program, cleared of all religious connotations, could then be reviewed by the school attorney to clear up concerns that the program would bring religion into the classroom.

“He could review the program, and he’ll give me his advice and recommendations,” Farrell said.

The superintendent also requested further community comment on the proposed pilot program. Yoga Ed. could be reviewed by a local interfaith association as well as two vocal opponents of classroom yoga ? one a local minister ? before the final product is introduced to students, Farrell said.

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However, the possibility of further community debate seemed to irritate some board members.

Board secretary Jon Seigle called the Aspen yoga debate “much ado about nothing” ? another needless headache for school officials. Seigle said that, provided the school district’s attorney approves the yoga program, parents should not be concerned with a separation of church and state. After all, he reported, the district still encourages the Pledge of Allegiance.

Seigle even compared the Aspen yoga controversy to 1925’s so-called “Scopes Monkey Trial,” the infamous court case that motivated a Tennessee teacher to defend his right to teach theories of evolution.

“Do we need to start having creationism talks in our science classes?” an exasperated Seigle asked. “A lot of the issues being raised here were raised there.”

Seigle warned assembled parents that a yoga program, if approved, would be introduced to the school district carefully.

“A lot of thought has gone into the program, and it’s in the hands of capable administrators,” he said. “I think we’re giving ourselves unnecessary brain damage.”

However, board President Augie Reno questioned administrative actions that led to a premature approval of a yoga pilot program.

Aspen Elementary Principal Barb Pitchford reported that former Assistant Superintendent Joel Sheridan had full knowledge of the Yoga Ed. program when it was proposed last spring. However, Reno charged that Yoga Ed. was somehow put in motion without the necessary vote of approval from the school board.

A pamphlet advocating Yoga Ed. ? the first installment of a planned Children’s Health Initiative that would include anti-bullying and eating disorder programs ? was mailed to elementary school parents just one week before school began last month. Reno said he and his fellow board members were surprised by the phone calls they fielded from interested parents.

“This board did not have knowledge of this before it went out on the streets,” he said of the pamphlet. “We had egg on our faces.”

Pitchford read a list of district policies that cited the approval process for school pilot programs. A pilot program, such as Yoga Ed., would not need full approval by the board, she said. Instead, those programs need only the consent of a top administrator ? in this case Sheridan, who left Aspen for another job early this summer.

Though the issue of approval was not resolved, Reno apologized to concerned parents for the way the yoga issue was handled.

Board members considered several options for the future of the yoga program, including Farrell’s suggested community input process. After nearly an hour of discussion, board member Alice Davis recommended that Yoga Ed. be approved for Aspen Elementary barring a major legal problem.

The board’s final vote was a divided one ? members Seigle, Davis and Fred Peirce approved the motion, while Reno dissented. Board Vice President Jill Uris, who had sided with Reno’s yoga views earlier in the meeting, abstained from the vote.

A large crowd gathered for the vote silently left the room immediately after the decision.

Now that the program has been tentatively approved, school district attorney Chris Gdowski will review its curriculum before making a recommendation to the school board.

District officials did not discuss how soon Yoga Ed. could be implemented at Aspen Elementary if Gdowski gives the program his approval.

[Jennifer Davoren’s e-mail address is jenniferd@aspentimes.com]