(April 16, 2019 / JNS) The families of eight children between the ages of three and four have accused a Jewish preschool in Washington, D.C., of sexual abuse against the children over a two-year period.
A 74-count lawsuit filed in Superior Court for the District of Columbia on Monday accuses Washington Hebrew Congregation, including the head of the school, of allowing a teacher, Jordan Silverman, to sexually abuse the children in their care. It also claims that despite numerous warning signs over a prolonged period, the congregation’s Edlavitch Tyser Early Childhood Center and its head of schools for early-childhood education, Deborah Jensen, failed to protect the children, who were taken to remote areas on campus and sexually abused.
Jensen was hired by the Washington Hebrew Congregation in the summer of 2014, and recruited and brought Silverman on board in March 2016, despite a lack of professional experience in teaching or child care, according to a statement by the law firm Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll, which is representing the victims.
The families in the lawsuit have not been named, as they decided to remain anonymous to safeguard their children’s privacy, an attorney for the parents told The Washington Post.
The Metropolitan Police Department of the District of Columbia told CNN on Monday evening that an investigation is ongoing. No suspects or arrests have been announced.
A spokesperson for Washington Hebrew Congregation, Amy Rotenberg, told the Post that the synagogue is reviewing the complaint.
“In August 2018, Washington Hebrew Congregation immediately reported the allegations to DC Metropolitan Police Department (MPDC) and Child Protective Services as soon as we learned of them,” she told the publication in an email. “Since that moment and for the past eight months, we have continually and fully cooperated with the ongoing criminal investigation. We have taken this matter seriously and have kept the community regularly apprised of what we know.”
“Although there has not been any arrest that we are aware of, and the allegations of abuse have not been proved, we recognize that these allegations are very troubling; as a faith community, Washington Hebrew has repeatedly offered to support its entire community as individuals grapple with how these allegations affect them and their families,” stated Rotenberg.
“Silverman’s alleged behavior is only a part of this story,” said Steven Toll, a managing partner at Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll. “Sadly, the Early Childhood Center and [Jensen] not only created an environment that enabled this predatory behavior, but failed to act on a myriad of indications that something was wrong.”
An attorney for Silverman denied the allegations.
Silverman was placed on administrative leave in August 2018 following a child’s disclosure of sexual abuse; similar allegations quickly followed. He is no longer at the school.
As of Tuesday morning, Jensen remains in her current role, although she has announced her intention to leave at the end of the current academic year.
“We are prepared to prove in this litigation that multiple adults—teachers and parents—went to the director of the school, Ms. Jensen, and either warned her specifically about behaviors they saw that were troubling or raised the concern about him taking children into rooms alone,” said Michael Dolce of Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll.