Controversy Over School Closings for Jewish Holy Days in Ohio

September 9, 1999

Source: The New York Times

On September 9, 1999, The New York Times reported that the ACLU has sued the Sycamore Community School District in Ohio for closing on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur on the basis that the school district is favoring one religion over another. Officials at the school district, located in a suburban district 15 miles northeast of Cincinnati, said that they decided to close for those two days only because so many students had been absent in previous years that it disrupted instruction. Bruce Armstrong, the district's superintendent, said that about 15 percent of the district's 6,200 students had been absent on those days. Although Muslim and Hindu parents in the school district have asked for school to be closed on their religious holidays, Armstrong contends that only about 6 percent are absent on Muslim and Hindu holidays, which includes a normal 3.5 percent absenteeism. Although many public school districts close for the High Holy Days, the ACLU contends that the case should not affect them. Raymond Vasvari, legal director of the ACLU of Ohio, stated: "I have been explaining to superintendents all over the east side of Cleveland that this case is highly fact-specific, and it does not mean anyone else is going to be sued." The ACLU contends that the particular history of how the school district closed on the High Holy Days is the crux of the case. The school district voted for a standard threshold percentage for absenteeism on religious holidays in 1995 that would decide whether the district would close, but the district chose to disregard that standard when it voted to close on the High Holy Days in 1997.