An elementary school assistant principal is suing her school district for violating her First Amendment rights after the school allegedly sent her to a “lower performing” school as a form of retaliation for bringing yoga to her students.
Bonnie Cole, now the assistant principal at Mableton Elementary in Mableton, Ga., introduced yoga to students at Bullard Elementary in Kennesaw, Ga., in 2016 as a way of teaching “de-stressing” and “mindfulness.”
Parents, however, criticized the school for teaching religion because of the use of the word “namaste” during yoga instruction and for leading children to put their hands together at their hearts and bowing — a traditional closing used in many Western yoga classes.
Bullard parents held a prayer rally in protest of the school-based yoga instruction, asking for “Jesus to rid the school of Buddhism,” according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Two parents took things further, going up to Cole’s office window and placing their hands on it to pray for yoga — and religion — to be taken out of their children’s school.
Eventually, the school moved to ban the word “namaste” outright, as well as anything that could be interpreted as bowing. Bullard Elementary’s principal, Patrice Moore, went so far as to send children home with a letter of apology to all parents, according to 11Alive.com, writing, “I am truly sorry that the mindfulness/de-stressing practices here at Bullard caused many misconceptions that in turn created a distraction in our school and community. 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.”
In her letter, the Bullard principal also noted that healing crystals would not be used or taught about in classes; despite crystals’ never having been used or taught about at Bullard, many parents apparently believed that they were, as a result of yoga and “de-stressing” being taught in school.
The word “namaste,” however, is used by many Hindu speakers as a simple form of salutation or greeting. It translates as “I bow to you” and does not have a religious connotation; rather, it is meant as a recognition of the soul of one person by the soul of another and does not have an intrinsic connection to the practice of yoga itself.
In her federal lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, Cole claims that being reassigned to Mableton from Bullard by the Cobb County School District as a result of the namaste snafu not only added 16 miles to her commute but also resulted in income loss, “humiliation,” and “indignities” that have negatively affected her career as an educator, reports the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Cole claims that the yoga practice introduced to Bullard students was never done as a religious practice and that the school district’s assertions that the practice of yoga veered in that direction are not only incorrect but also hypocritical, as daily emails were sent to staff during that same period containing Christian scripture-based devotionals.
Cole’s suit states, “Not only was the capitulation and transfer a humiliating and public demonstration of the district’s lack of support of Ms. Cole, it made clear to the community that religious activities will be allowed as long as they are part of the ‘accepted’ religion of Christianity.”
When reached for comment by Yahoo Beauty, the Cobb County School District’s spokesperson Donna Lowry said that the district would give no comment on pending litigation. Bonnie Cole has yet responded to Yahoo Beauty’s request for comment on the situation.
In 2015, a California Court of Appeal ruled that the yoga classes taught in a California school district were “devoid of any religious, mystical, or spiritual trappings,” according to the Washington Post. And thus they were considered secular and were allowed to be taught in public schools under the First Amendment.
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