Corrected July 12, 2019 9 a.m.
Officials have substantiated the multiple reports of child abuse against a former preschool teacher at Washington Hebrew Congregation.
And three families in June filed a lawsuit against the Reform congregation, said attorney Michael Dolce. Dolce represents eight other families that sued the congregation and its former preschool director in April.
CNN reported on July 2 that it obtained a copy of a cease-and-desist letter sent by the Office of the State Superintendent of Education in June. The letter revealed that “more than one child was a victim of sexual abuse by the alleged maltreator” at the preschool.
The letter is believed to be the first public finding of an investigation into the alleged abuse by city authorities, according to CNN.
According to CNN, the school “allegedly allowed the accused abuser to lead groups of children to a wooded area outside the center and the bathroom.” The letter also said the school failed to enforce its policy on cell phone use, and the abuser used his device to take photos and videos of the children.
The school’s staff complained about the abuser’s behavior, but their complaints were ignored and “the center’s former director also threatened to reprimand staff members who complained about the alleged abuser,” CNN said.
The sexual abuse allegations came to light last August, but there was no confirmation until the eight families filed suit in April. The suit alleged a teacher sexually abused their children and the preschool director ignored the claims. The director, D.J. Schneider Jensen, was placed on leave after being named in the suit.
The school announced her replacement, Miryam Buchler, on May 7. Buchler is expected to start on July 15.
According to Dolce, the families involved in the case have all withdrawn their children from the school. The families who were members at the synagogue have left the congregation. It has been “an ongoing struggle” for them, he said.
The letter from the State Superintendent of Education instructed Washington Hebrew Congregation “to cease and desist from the alleged violations and to comply with an action plan to correct them,” according to CNN.
In a statement to CNN, 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.”
“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’s statement continued. “We will continue to work cooperatively with OSSE in achieving best practices in child safety.”
The preschool will remain open; the Office of the State Superintendent renewed the school’s license in May.
No arrests have been made.
Correction: This story incorrectly reported that the attorney for Washington Hebrew Congregation did not respond to requests for comment before press time. The congregation provided the following statement:
Over 10 months ago, Washington Hebrew Congregation informed the DC Office of State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) about the allegations of abuse that are still under investigation by the DC Metropolitan Police Department. Immediately thereafter, we engaged both Hogan Lovells and Baltimore Child Abuse Center to independently evaluate our policies, practices and procedures and advise us on how to achieve best practices in child safety. We have already implemented most of their recommendations. Since August, OSSE has conducted a number of scheduled and surprise inspections, concluding in writing in March 2019 after a detailed annual inspection that the school’s operations were fully compliant with applicable law. In May 2019, OSSE reissued our license, confirming that we are licensed to operate both during the school year and summer camp. OSSE’s corrective action plan brought to us several weeks ago is consistent with the improvement to our school policies and training that we have already made. 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. We will continue to work cooperatively with OSSE in achieving best practices in child safety.