Today, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Ohio Foundation, Inc. filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio in an attempt to end the Sycamore School District's practice of closing its schools for the Jewish holidays of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur.
The school district adopted a policy to close its schools for these holidays in 1998, maintaining that it is necessary to do so because of the high absentee rate, estimated to be between 14% and 15%. However, in 1995, the school district adopted a religion-neutral policy that its schools would close only when absences were anticipated to exceed 21.5% of the student population. Besides ignoring its own policy on school closings, the school district has not attempted to close schools on other days, such as Take Your Daughter To Work Day, which has had practically the same absentee rate as Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur.
"Public schools may close on religious holidays only if they have a religiously-neutral reason for doing so. However, the overwhelming evidence in this particular case makes it clear that the district's motivation is to unconstitutionally benefit religion," according to Gino Scarselli, Associate Legal Director for the ACLU of Ohio.
"In the most religiously diverse country in the world, we need to be aware that closing public schools for any or all religious holidays, in the end, only fosters division among those of different faiths instead of promoting tolerance," said Stephen R. Felson, ACLU of Ohio Cooperating Attorney.