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Advocacy Update for Colorado RYS Owners

December 8, 2014

Recently, Yoga Alliance® has been contacted by a number of yoga teacher training schools (“YTTs”) in Colorado regarding correspondence received from the Colorado Division of Private Occupational Schools (the “Division”) asserting that such schools may be subject to requirements governing occupational schools and programs. As you know, Yoga Alliance shares your significant concerns regarding the Division’s attempt to regulate Colorado YTTs and is taking steps to work with you to protect the rights of YTTs in this state.

We have compiled some answers to questions that we have received from members over the past few days, as well as information explaining the basis of the letter Yoga Alliance submitted to the Division opposing its recent enforcement efforts. We have also included information on how you may join the effort to protect YTTs from burdensome regulation in Colorado.

Over the coming days and weeks, your support will be vital to protecting yoga businesses from overly burdensome requirements by regulators and decision makers in Colorado.

 

What is the Colorado Division of Private Occupational Schools?

The Division is an agency within the Colorado Department of Higher Education comprised of seven board members appointed by the governor and six career employees. The board members include industry representatives, general public representatives, and a financial community representative. The names of the board members are available online.

The Division is directed by statute to oversee private postsecondary occupational schools (“schools”) and the delivery of occupational education. To this end, the Division provides minimum requirements for schools, in order to protect Colorado residents from fraudulent or substandard schools. (See Colo. Rev. Stat. §12-59-102.)  The Division’s work is aimed at ensuring students of postsecondary schools are not defrauded and that they participate in programs that are appropriately structured and marketed. Currently, the Division regulates approximately 675 occupational schools in a wide range of industries. The list of currently regulated schools is available online.

Why did the Division contact me?

Over the past several weeks, the Division has sent letters to YTTs in Colorado asserting that such schools may be subject to requirements governing private occupational schools and programs. The Division has directed the YTTs to submit a completed “Regulation Determination Questionnaire” to evaluate the applicability of such requirements to these schools. The questionnaires request general information about the YTTs and information about courses offered, method of delivery, and tuition structure. These letters assert that the YTTs must submit responses within 10 days of receipt of the letter.

In asserting that state regulations likely apply to the currently unregistered YTTs to which it sent these questionnaires, the Division referenced Yoga Alliance Registry’s Registered Yoga School (RYS®) credential – which the Division attributed to Yoga Alliance – as a rationale for requiring state-level approval for YTT operation. The Division also referred to classifications by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics and U.S. Department of Labor that list various occupations including Yoga Instructors. The Division noted that it currently “oversees more than 20 schools that offer educational programs and courses in the yoga, Pilates and personal fitness trainer areas” as justification for its determination. Importantly, around 15 yoga facilities already appear to be licensed by the Division.

While it is unclear why the Division has begun targeting YTTs at this time, there have been similar efforts by regulators in other states in recent years.

Am I really subject to regulation?

Under Colorado statute, schools subject to the Division’s regulations are those “which offer[ ] educational credentials or educational services that constitute occupational education in [Colorado] and which [are] not specifically exempt from the provisions” of the statute. Colo. Rev. Stat. §12-59-103(11). “Occupational education” is further defined as “any education designed to facilitate a vocational, technical, or occupational development of individual persons including, but not limited to, vocational or technical training . . . which is conducted as a part of a program designed to fit individuals for gainful employment...” Colo. Rev. Stat. §12-59-103(8.5) (emphasis added).

According to the letters sent from the Division to YTTs in Colorado, the Division believes that the instruction provided by YTTs constitutes “occupational education.”

Yoga Alliance, however, firmly believes that YTTs should not be subject to the Division’s regulations because YTTs are generally not designed to prepare trainees for “gainful employment” as the vast majority of trainees who complete such programs do not pursue occupations as yoga instructors. Indeed, a minority of individuals who complete YTT programs register with Yoga Alliance Registry as Registered Yoga Teachers (RYT®s), and of those who do register, only a fraction work full-time as instructors. Further, completion of a YTT program is not a requirement to teach yoga in Colorado, and therefore completion of a YTT program cannot be considered a precursor to “gainful employment.”

Is it possible that the regulations don’t apply to my YTT?

Colorado law does exempt a number of educational institutions and services from regulation, including those providing free educational services, or educational services offered by an employer for the training of its own employees. See Colo. Rev. Stat. §12-59-104. All available exemptions are listed in Section 104 of the statute, a copy of which is available online.

One exemption excludes schools “offering education solely avocational, supplementary, or ancillary in nature” from regulation. Colo. Rev. Stat. §12-59-104(c). Yoga Alliance believes that this exemption should apply to many YTTs in Colorado. Unfortunately, determination of whether a particular school is exempt from regulation is controlled by the Division. While it is not immediately clear what criteria the Division is using to determine exemption status, Yoga Alliance will seek a definitive answer from the Division. To date, Yoga Alliance has been contacted both by YTTs who were notified that they are exempt as their programs are “avocational” and by YTTs whose request for exempt status was denied.

The Division said I am not exempt. Now what?

Please see below for the steps Yoga Alliance is taking to oppose the Division’s attempt to regulate Colorado YTTs and how you can help. Because the Division’s determinations are specific to each YTT, however, Yoga Alliance cannot give advice to any YTT on how to respond to enforcement efforts by the Division specifically addressed to an individual school. YTTs that believe the Division’s determination of their status was wrongly decided are advised to seek guidance from the Division and/or from legal counsel concerning options for appealing or opposing the Division’s determination and about any consequences to non-compliance with enforcement efforts by the Division.

What does regulation by the Division entail?

Schools that fall under the Division’s purview are required to obtain approval from the Division to operate in the state. The Division conditions such approval on a showing that the schools meet statutory standards including, but not limited to: sufficient financial resources to make refunds as necessary and provide adequate facilities and equipment; adherence to a school catalog which specifies programs offered, entrance requirements, program objectives, and tuition; provision of appropriate educational credentials upon completion of the training; adherence to a cancellation and termination policy; and proof that owners, officers, agents, administrators, and instructors are of good reputation and free from moral turpitude. See Colo. Rev. Stat. §12-59-106. Further, the Division has set forth a fee schedule and additional requirements via regulation related to the qualifications for instructional staff, school attendance policies, and maintenance of student records, among others. See Code Regs. § 8-1504-1(III). Notably, the requirements for experienced-level school staff exceed the Requirements for some RYT designations from Yoga Alliance Registry.

Schools that fail to comply with the standards set forth by statute and regulation are subject to enforcement action and may face penalties including administrative fines and court-ordered closure. See Code Regs. § 8-1504-1(XI).

Yoga Alliance believes that the imposition of these requirements and fees on YTTs in Colorado is unnecessary to protect the public, prohibitively expensive to many YTTs, and unduly burdensome.

Do I need to respond to the Division?

Please remember that the Division is a government agency. Yoga Alliance cannot provide legal advice to its members and, therefore, will not direct its membership to respond or not to respond to this agency. If you have concerns or questions about your particular responses to Division directives, Yoga Alliance encourages you to seek independent legal counsel. However, Yoga Alliance, working with our members and the Colorado yoga community, will advocate against the Division’s efforts to enforce these regulations on YTTs.

What is Yoga Alliance doing about this?

Like you, Yoga Alliance has significant concerns about the Division’s attempt to assert enforcement authority over Colorado YTTs. Yoga Alliance has explained to the Division its view that the Division does not have clear authority under law to subject YTTs to its rules. Yoga Alliance also believe that the Division’s stated justifications for regulating YTTs – including its reliance on a YTT’s registration with Yoga Alliance Registry – are misguided and not relevant to the Division’s mission. Yoga Alliance shares your serious concerns that these regulations will have a detrimental impact on the yoga community, on many yoga businesses, and on Colorado’s economy.

Yoga Alliance has already contacted the Division to formally oppose its attempt to regulate YTTs in Colorado. A copy of Yoga Alliance’s letter to Division Director Lorna Candler is enclosed, and explains Yoga Alliance’s position and rebuts the Division’s assessment of why it believes YTTs should be regulated.

Further, Yoga Alliance is prepared to undertake – and is already working toward – strategic efforts to persuade the Division, and if necessary, the executive or legislative branches in Colorado that the Division’s attempts to regulate YTTs is misguided. These efforts may include implementation of new statutory or regulatory provisions clarifying that most YTTs are exempt from the jurisdiction of the Division.

How can I help?

If you do not wish to be regulated by the Division:

  1. Let us know if you were contacted by the Division and the date of receipt by contacting us at info@yogaalliance.org.
  2. Send us your contact information and the names and contact information of any Colorado state legislators who may be interested in supporting you and other YTTs in advocating against regulation.
  3. Let us know if you are willing to participate in Yoga Alliance’s efforts to oppose the Division’s regulation of YTTs. With your support, Yoga Alliance is preparing to launch a grassroots advocacy campaign to make sure the voices of yoga programs are heard by regulators and decision makers in the state.
  4. State the reasons why you do not believe YTTs are subject to the Division’s jurisdiction in any correspondence to the agency if your YTT has been contacted by the Division.  If you have already provided a response to the Division, you may consider sending an additional message to state your opposition to regulation. We hope you find the arguments set forth in Yoga Alliance’s enclosed letter helpful, and we encourage you to use these arguments in your communications with the Division.

Thank you to all members who have already connected with Yoga Alliance. We look forward to working with you to protect YTTs across Colorado.

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