Washington Hebrew Congregation claims parents waived right to sue over sex abuse

The Washington Hebrew Congregation, which is being sued by parents over alleged sexual abuse in the synagogue’s preschool, says parents relinquished their ability to file a lawsuit when they signed waivers while enrolling their children, according to court documents.

In 2019, a group of parents filed a lawsuit against the reform synagogue in upper Northwest D.C., claiming administrators at Edlavitch-Tyser Early Childhood Center were negligent and ignored warning signs that a teacher was sexually abusing toddlers.

Recently, lawyers for the synagogue filed a motion for summary judgment, requesting the judge in D.C. Superior Court to make a ruling before a trial.



In documents supporting that request, lawyers for Washington Hebrew said parents gave up the right to sue when they signed enrollment waivers: “They agreed not to make any claim against WHC or sue WHC for any personal injury they or their minor may sustain as a result of participating in WHC programs when the injury resulted from negligent acts or omissions.”

In prior filings, the parents have called that assertion absurd.

“Sexual abuse is not a school activity,” wrote the attorneys for the parents. “Not a single Plaintiff parent who signed the release contemplated that it would cover injuries sustained as a result of their children being sexually abused by a trusted WHC employee.”

The lawsuit says 14 students were abused.

WTOP is not identifying the teacher at the center of the investigation, since he has neither been charged criminally nor named as a defendant in the lawsuit. In 2020, prosecutors and police closed an investigation into the teacher, finding there was “insufficient probable cause” to make an arrest.

WHC has said as soon as the school was made aware of allegations, it reported them to police, and said the plaintiffs have failed to provide evidence that meets the legal standard for gross negligence.

A jury trial is scheduled to begin March 13, 2023.

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a reporter at WTOP since 1997. Through the years, Neal has covered many of the crimes and trials that have gripped the region. Neal's been pleased to receive awards over the years for hard news, feature reporting, use of sound and sports.

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