Exclusive: Officials substantiate child sex abuse allegations at prominent DC synagogue's preschool

(CNN)Officials have substantiated multiple accusations of child sexual abuse by a preschool teacher at a prominent synagogue in Washington, DC, according to a cease-and-desist letter sent by the DC superintendent of education to the synagogue in June.

The letter says the district's Child and Family Services Agency found that "more than one child was a victim of sexual abuse by the alleged maltreator" at Washington Hebrew Congregation's preschool.
CNN obtained a copy of the letter through a Freedom of Information Act request.
Founded in 1852, Washington Hebrew Congregation, is one of DC's oldest and most prominent Jewish institutions, attended by the city's Jewish elites for generations.
    But the congregation and its early childhood education center have been thrown into turmoil since allegations of child sexual abuse arose last August. The cease-and-desist letter is believed to be the first public finding of an investigation into the alleged abuse at the school by DC authorities.
    The school allegedly allowed the accused abuser to lead groups of children to a wooded area outside the center and the bathroom, and dismissed other staff members' verbal complaints about the alleged maltreator "disappearing with children for periods of time," according to the letter.
    The center did not enforce its policy prohibiting staff members from using cellphones at the school, which the alleged abuser used to take videos and pictures of children, according to the Office of the State Superintendent of Education.
    The center's former director also threatened to reprimand staff members who complained about the alleged abuser, the agency says.
    The Office of the State Superintendent of Education's letter instructs Washington Hebrew Congregation to cease and desist from the alleged violations and to comply with an action plan to correct them.
    In a statement, Washington Hebrew Congregation said that it has engaged two outside audits to evaluate its preschool policies, practices and procedures, and has implemented "most" of the recommendations listed in the state superintendent's cease-and-desist letter. It also noted that the Office of the State Superintendent of Education reissued the preschool's license to operate in May 2019.
    "We are gratified to know that the steps already implemented were correct, and that we are fully licensed to operate our child care programs year-round," the congregation said in a statement to CNN on Monday. "We will continue to work cooperatively with OSSE in achieving best practices in child safety."

    Parents filed suit in April

    In April, the families of eight young children filed suit against the congregation and its former director, D.J. Jensen, alleging that they ignored warnings about the teacher for more than two years. DC's Metropolitan Police Department and the district's attorney general are also investigating the alleged abuse at the congregation's Edlavitch-Tyser Early Childhood Center.
    In May 2019, the Office of the State Superintendent of Education was notified that another child told a psychologist the alleged abuser touched the child inappropriately, according to the agency's letter.
    The parents' lawsuit alleges that the abuser is Jordan Silverman, a former teacher at Washington Hebrew Congregation's preschool. Silverman, who was not named as a defendant in the lawsuit, has not been charged with any crimes in relation to the alleged abuse and has denied the allegations in the suit.
    "Mr. Silverman categorically denies engaging in any inappropriate or illegal contact with children at Washington Hebrew Congregation," said his former attorney, Shawn Sukumar.
    Jensen, the center's former director, has not responded to multiple requests for comment.
    The cease-and desist letter was sent by the District of Columbia's Office of the State Superintendent of Education on June 3, with an amended copy following on June 5. It was addressed to Steven Jacober, executive director of Washington Hebrew Congregation.
    According to the letter, the synagogue's early childhood center failed to ensure the safety of children in its care, to properly supervise children and staff and did not report the alleged abuse to education officials, as required by law.
    The Office of the State Superintendent of Education's investigation included interviews with Washington Hebrew Congregation (WHC) leaders, multiple site visits and a review of the preschool's documents and records, according to the letter. The letter does not name Silverman, instead referring repeatedly to an "alleged maltreator."
    "OSSE's investigation revealed that WHC had not safeguarded the health, safety and well-being of the children entrusted to their care," the letter says.

    OSSE says staffers knew complaints would be ignored

    The school's leaders were in violation of the District of Columbia's requirement for child development centers that at least two teachers should supervise students at all times, according to the letter.
    OSSE said the leaders "knowingly maintained a practice" of allowing teachers and assistant teachers to be alone with students, and that "an individual teacher or assistant teacher were permitted to supervise groups of children on their own," including taking children to the bathroom, to a room without windows in a back hallway, and changing children out of their water-play clothes.