BLUE ASH, Ohio, Feb. 18 (AP)--A suburban Cincinnati school district that was sued by the American Civil Liberties Union has ended its two-year experiment with closing schools on Jewish holidays, saying the absentee rate wasn't high enough to cancel classes.

``This is a public school system, so we are going to attempt to run our district with nonreligious days off,'' said School Board President Don Hirsch.

The ACLU, which had sued the Sycamore school district in August, praised the decision. The lawsuit alleged that closing public schools on Jewish holidays violated the Constitution by giving the appearance of benefiting religion. But Superintendent Bruce Armstrong said the lawsuit wasn't the reason the district chose to hold classes on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

The school board, in a 4-1 vote Wednesday night, dropped the experiment because the average 15 percent absenteeism rate on those days wasn't high enough to justify closing schools, Armstrong said. The normal absentee rate is 4 percent.

Armstrong said when he became superintendent in 1994, the district had a policy of not giving tests or introducing new material on Jewish holidays because attendance was notably lower. The 6,200-student district serves the northern suburbs of Blue Ash, Montgomery and Symmes Township.

The ACLU argued that public schools may close on religious holidays only if they have a religiously neutral reason for doing so. The ACLU said the lawsuit would likely be settled because of the board's decision.


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