Upholding the decision made by a local court to keep the crucifixes, the Consiglio di Stato (Council of State) argued that while a crucifix in a place of worship is exclusively a religious symbol, in a school it can have an educational value, irrespective of the faith professed by pupils". It was a "suitable symbol to express the elevated foundation of civic values".
The ruling came after a mother of two had taken her children's school to court because she objected to the presence of crucifixes in a "lay" education system.
Crucifixes have been in schools in Italy since 1926, following a royal decree. Since then Italy has become a republic, and the portrait of the king has been replaced by a photo of the president, but the crucifix continues to hang behind most teachers' desks.
Five years ago the leader of the Italian Muslim community caused a stir when he attempted unsuccessfully to have crucifixes removed from the primary school attended by his children.
According to a recent survey, 80 per cent of Italians believe the crucifix should stay.
The day after the ruling, Roberto Calderoli, the minister for institutional reforms, inflamed Muslims by unbuttoning his shirt on television to reveal the infamous Mohammed cartoons on a T-shirt underneath. The gesture has led to violence against Italian interests abroad and three lawsuits being filed against the minister.