NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Holidays For All -- Or No One

September 9, 1999

A case being brought by the American Civil Liberties Union against an Ohio school district could wind up presenting a major headache to public school superintendents throughout the land. It concerns official school closings on religious holidays.

  • Seven years ago, a group of Jewish parents questioned the Sycamore Community School District as to why schools were closed for Christian Good Friday, but not for the Jewish High Holy Days.
  • After the school board decided to cancel classes during the High Holy Days, a group of Muslim and Hindu parents asked why the schools did not close for the most holy of their holidays -- but they received no satisfaction from the school board this time.
  • The ACLU stepped in and sued on the grounds that the district is favoring one religion over others, is giving preference to Jewish parents and is violating the First Amendment -- while the board responds that it only closed on the High Holy Days to avoid the disruption of absenteeism.
  • District officials say that about 15 percent of students did not attend school on certain Jewish holidays, while on major Muslim and Hindu holidays the absentee rate was about 6 percent, including a normal 3.5 percent absentee rate.

ACLU officials contend the Ohio case "is highly fact-specific and does not mean anyone else is going to be sued." But word of the suit has alarmed school superintendents elsewhere.

Source: Laurie Goodstein, "A.C.L.U. Sues a School District for Closing on the Jewish High Holy Days," New York Times, September 9, 1999.


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