The attorney general of Washington, D.C., is investigating allegations made by eight families that a teacher at Washington Hebrew Congregation’s preschool repeatedly sexually abused their children over the past two years.
In addition, the families are charging that the preschool’s top leader repeatedly ignored claims of “regular and systemic” abuse against the children, who ranged between the ages of 2 and 4 at the time of the alleged abuse, according to a civil lawsuit filed last week in D.C. Superior Court against WHC’s Edlavitch Tyser Early Childhood Center and its head of schools, Deborah “DJ” Schneider Jensen.
Jensen, who earned her master’s degree in early childhood education from Towson University, joined WHC in July of 2014. She previously worked at Baltimore’s Louise D. and Morton J. Macks Center for Jewish Education as director of early childhood services.
“We can confirm that the office of the attorney general is conducting an investigation of the Washington Hebrew Congregation preschool,” read a statement from the office of D.C. Attorney General Karl A Racine. “However, we will decline to comment further at this time.”
According to media reports, the 74-count complaint names preschool teacher Jordan Silverman as the alleged abuser. But Silverman, who was not named as a defendant in the lawsuit, was not charged with any crimes and denies the allegations, according to his attorney.
The civil suit accuses the school of failing to protect the children from “a known and avoidable risk of sexual abuse” by a teacher employed at the preschool from 2014 until he was suspended in 2018 over allegations that he “may have engaged in inappropriate conduct involving one or more children.”
Metropolitan Police Department of the District of Columbia confirmed to CNN that an investigation into the matter is ongoing.
According to the lawsuit, Jensen hired Silverman even though he did not have any teaching or child care background. The complaint states that Silverman previously worked for 20 years as a photographer in Vermont before moving to Bethesda.
A statement sent to media outlets by the families’ attorneys said the teacher “was allowed and encouraged to be alone with the children individually and in small groups. … The abuse included the most grievous, demeaning and damaging forms of sexual abuse.”
In a statement, WHC said it is “carefully reviewing the complaint.”
“On August 16, 2018, as soon as we learned of these allegations, Washington Hebrew Congregation reported the allegations of sex abuse to DC Metropolitan Police Department and Child Protective Services,” the congregation’s statement read. “Since that moment and for the past eight months we have continually and fully cooperated with the ongoing criminal investigation. We have kept the community regularly apprised of what we know.
“Contrary to allegations in the complaint, our early childhood centers have not violated the law,” the statement said. “We have not been found to be in violation of state regulations as alleged in the complaint based on at least three inspections since the allegations first arose in August 2018.”
A Reform congregation, WHC has a membership of approximately 3,000 families and individuals. Founded in 1852, it is the oldest congregation in the nation’s capital.
This story will be updated with future developments.
Information for this article was culled from multiple news sources, including the JTA international news agency and wire service.