The attorney general of Washington is investigating the preschool at Washington Hebrew Congregation, a prominent synagogue in the nation’s capital, several days after parents filed a civil suit against the school alleging their children were sexually abused by a teacher there.
“We can confirm that the office of the attorney general is conducting an investigation of the Washington Hebrew Congregation preschool, however we will decline to comment further at this time,” said a spokesperson for DC Attorney General Karl Racine.
Racine does not have criminal authority over sex crimes, but he does have jurisdiction over child care licensing requirements and mandatory reporting laws on the sexual abuse of children.
The families, who are filing the suit anonymously to protect the children’s identities, say the alleged abuse occurred at Washington Hebrew Congregation’s Early Childhood Center, a Reform Jewish synagogue founded in the 1850s.
“The families are encouraged by the attorney general’s criminal investigation,” said Michael Dolce, a Florida attorney representing the parents.
“Child sex predators cannot sexually abuse such young children in a school unless the school neglects its duty to ensure child safety. We believe DC regulations mandate, under penalty of criminal prosecution, that school administrators ensure two adults are present with children at all times in order to prevent a tragedy exactly like this.”
The lawsuit names Jordan Silverman, a teacher at Washington Hebrew Congregation’s preschool, as the abuser. Silverman, who was not named as a defendant in the lawsuit, has not been charged with any crimes and denies the allegations in the lawsuit.
“Mr. Silverman categorically denies engaging in any inappropriate or illegal contact with children at Washington Hebrew Congregation,” said his attorney, Shawn Sukumar.
A spokesman for the Metropolitan Police Department of the District of Columbia confirmed to CNN on Monday evening that an investigation into alleged sexual abuse of children at the school is ongoing. Police wouldn’t confirm or deny that Silverman is a suspect, saying they release a suspect’s name only if the public’s assistance is needed to locate the suspect or the suspect has been arrested.
“There are no updates at this time,” said spokesman Sean Hickman.
In a statement, Washington Hebrew Congregation said it learned the lawsuit was filed Monday evening and 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 continued.
“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 congregation’s 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.”
The lawsuit accuses the school’s head of early childhood education, Deborah Jensen, of failing to “protect children from a known and avoidable risk of sexual abuse,” according to a statement from the families’ lawyers.
Jensen could not be reached for comment. She joined Washington Hebrew Congregation in 2014 as its early childhood director, according to the congregation’s website.
According to a police report, on August 17, 2018, a hotline for the district’s Child and Family Services agencies received “an allegation of sexual abuse of a child.” The hotline reporter claimed the alleged abuse began in September 2017 and continued until August 15, 2018, two days before the police investigation started.
The 74-count civil complaint was filed late Monday in Superior Court for the District of Columbia and alleges that “systemic, regular sexual abuse of such young children and in large numbers in an educational environment does not occur in the absence of neglect by the school administrators.”
The alleged victims were between the ages of 2 and 4 and included girls and boys, according to the statement.
“The abuse included the most grievous, demeaning and damaging forms of sexual abuse,” the statement read.
Washington Hebrew Congregation said “child safety has always been our top priority.”
“Although there has not been any arrest, these allegations are very troubling; as a faith community, Washington Hebrew has supported and will continue to support its entire community as individuals grapple with how these allegations affect them and their families.”