Principal Says District Buckled to Pressure Over Yoga in Class

ATLANTA (CN) – An assistant principal at Georgia’s Cobb County School District claims in court that she was unfairly transferred to another school after parents complained about her teaching yoga-based exercises.

In a federal lawsuit filed in Atlanta, Bonnie Cole says she began working for the school district in 1998 and was promoted to assistant principal at its Bullard Elementary School in 2006.

As recounted in the April 18 complaint, in 2014 Cole began to encourage her teachers to use breathing and stretching exercises based on yoga and meditation to reduce stress and help them to relax.

Shortly afterward, and with teacher input, Cole decorated a faculty room with soft lighting, fountains, and peaceful music, and designated it as a place where faculty could “take a few deep breaths, color mandalas, or play with kinetic sand” to sooth their sometimes harried nerves.

Then Cole and the teachers began encouraging students to try the stretching exercises and meditation techniques. And Cole says as a result of the initiative, the school saw a 33 percent decrease in disruptive behaviors during the 2014-2015 school year.

But parents soon began complaining to the school district that the mindfulness practices were promoting eastern religious practices that they objected to, and an anonymous letter was sent to the school district and school board.

“A number of the parents became increasingly hostile and aggressive, inundating CCSD with emails stating that Ms. Cole was, among other things, a Buddhist, trying to indoctrinate their children with Buddhism, and many other wild and false accusations,” the complaint says.

According to the lawsuit, several parents held a prayer rally at the school “for Jesus to rid the school of Buddhism.”

The lawsuit alleges that although members of the school district initially voiced their support, they began to buckle under community pressure that included their receiving emails of Christian scripture passages.

Cole says the district ultimately halted all mindfulness activities and eventually moved her to another school farther away from her home.

“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 as understood and practiced by members of the CCSD Board of Education and Defendant Ragsdale,” the complaint says.

Cole seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages as well as a determination the district violated her constitutional rights.

She is represented by Edward Buckley of Atlanta.

Representatives for the Cobb County School District were not immediately available for comment.