A judge has made several final decisions on claims made in the D.C. attorney general’s lawsuit against the Washington Hebrew Congregation. The suit claims the WHC’s preschool violated child care regulations and consumer protection laws.
The suit is related to a separate 2019 lawsuit brought by a group of parents claiming WHC’s Edlavitch-Tyser Early Childhood Center didn’t properly report that a teacher had sexually abused toddlers. According to court documents, 14 children were allegedly abused.
WTOP is not identifying the teacher because that person has not been charged with a crime.
Last Tuesday, D.C. Superior Court Judge Alfred S. Irving Jr. sided with D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine on a claim concerning the District’s separate 2020 lawsuit. In that claim, the judge agreed that WHC failed to abide by multiple childcare safety regulations in the operation of its preschool.
“Our top priority as the Office of Attorney General is to keep our children safe. Washington Hebrew Congregation broke the law and ignored the rules intended to protect children in its care — with truly tragic consequences,” Racine said in a statement to WTOP.
“Childcare providers must hire qualified teachers and assistant teachers and immediately report suspected child abuse. With this ruling, we are one step closer to accountability.”
Among points where the judge sided with the District, one was the failure to report allegations of sexual abuse to the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) immediately, even though the school maintained it contacted police the same day allegations came to light.
In response, the Washington Hebrew Congregation said in a statement that, from the beginning, it had taken all allegations seriously and reported them to police and child protective services as soon as they were discovered.
“Ensuring the safety and well-being of children in our care is embedded in our Jewish values,” the statement said. “Throughout the criminal investigation, we brought in support and resources to help them and their families. We continue to perform a background check on each prospective educator, and all staff participate in extensive training and development.”
The judge also found that the preschool had violated reporting rules by not filing “unusual incident” reports for three other incidents, that are not related to the parents’ sexual abuse case.
According to court documents, two of those cases took place in 2016 and it included an assistant teacher at Camp Keetov who allegedly used physical force with children by “‘yanking them by their arms’ and ‘grabbing them by their torsos from behind.’” There were also accounts that a teacher had reportedly “taunted a child repeatedly until he made her cry and taunted other children as well.”
A third case involved a teacher accused of “physically moving children in the classroom through pushing them.”
The staff members involved were terminated and, even though the judge agreed the school did take corrective measures, he said they failed to report the incidents to the District, which was required by law.
In addition to the specific instances, the judge found the school had violated other regulations.
On the administrative side, the judge ruled that WHC had hired unqualified teachers and assistant teachers, and that it failed to maintain documents showing that staff has minimum required credentials.
In addition, the judge also ruled in favor of the District in its allegation WHC operated a summer program without a license.
The judge also found that Washington Hebrew Congregation violated the District’s Consumer Protection Procedures Act (CPPA), which Racine’s office said prohibits a wide variety of deceptive and unlawful business practices.
The judge did decide in favor for WHC on one count in the lawsuit, deciding the OAG’s office “failed to meet its burden and the Court,” when it came to allegations that WHC violated the District’s Nonprofit Corporations Act.
Under the CPPA, it is illegal to provide products or services that violate other District laws and regulations.
As many of the District’s charges against WHC have centered on reporting violations, in their statement, WHC said OSSE records for the past several years show the school has complied with requirements and that “any regulatory violations from years ago were remedied.”
WHC also accused the attorney general of deciding to “try this case in the media.”
As it relates to the separate sexual abuse lawsuit brought forth by parents, a jury must still decide if “regressive behaviors” by the child at the center of the sexual abuse investigation should have been “deemed by staff of potential sexual abuse,” and reported to the District.
A jury must also decide if the preschool should have had two teachers with students at all times.
In its court filings, the District also claimed that WHC “made numerous misrepresentations to parents about the safety of the childcare services it provided.” A jury must decide on that as well.
A trial date in the case has not been set.
Correction: This story has been corrected to indicate that the judge did not decide on whether students at the WHC preschool should have two adults present with them at all times. A jury will decide on that.