Washington Hebrew sued amid sex abuse allegations at preschool

Multiple families are suing the Washington Hebrew Congregation, alleging that the synagogue’s preschool and its director ignored warning signs of sexual abuse happening on the campus over a two-year period.

At the center of the civil suit is the Edlavitch Tyser Early Childhood Center and Deborah “D.J.” Schneider Jensen, who is accused of hiring a male teacher and ignoring reports of concern that he was preying on eight 3- and 4-year-old boys and girls.

No criminal charges have been filed against the teacher, and a D.C. police investigation is ongoing. The teacher is not a defendant in the lawsuit.

The 74-count suit, filed in D.C. Superior Court on Monday, alleges that Jensen failed to protect the children and was negligent amid “systemic, regular sexual abuse.”

The families filed the suit anonymously. A judge will be asked to allow the anonymous suit in order to protect the identities of the victims

They’re seeking unspecified damages “in order to help manage many of the repercussions frequently associated with abuse,” according to the attorneys’ statement.

“On Aug. 16, 2018, as soon as we learned of these allegations, Washington Hebrew Congregation reported the allegations of sex abuse to D.C. Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) and Child Protective Services,” the Congregation wrote in a statement. “Since that moment and for the past eight months we have continually and fully cooperated with the ongoing criminal investigation.”

Washington Hebrew Congregation says its reviewing the lawsuit.

A police report dated Aug. 17 2018 shows that D.C.’s Child & Family Services Agency received an allegation of sexual abuse that occurred from Sept. 2 2017 to Aug. 15 2018.

According to the lawsuit, the teacher was frequently “allowed and encouraged to be alone with the children individually and in small groups,” the families’ attorneys wrote in a statement.

Further, the man was “observed by other teachers and parents to be engaging in behaviors toward children that could be part of a purposeful ‘grooming’ effort as a prelude to abuse.”

Complaints about the teacher from parents and other teachers began as early as one month into his time at the school, according to the statement, but Jensen allegedly disregarded those concerns as unfounded without any investigation into them.

The man was hired in March 2016. He was placed on administrative leave in August 2018.

“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,” Washington Hebrew Congregation wrote.

WTOP’s Megan Cloherty contributed to this report.

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