Washington Hebrew Congregation violated D.C. law, judge rules

A judge has ruled that the Washington Hebrew Congregation violated the district’s Consumer Protection Act when it failed to follow multiple child safety regulations in the operation of its preschool, most recently in an ongoing legal battle between the city and the Northwest Washington synagogue.

Other allegations set out in DC Attorney General Karl A. Racine (D)’s 2020 lawsuit — including an allegation that the community misrepresented the safety of its programs to parents — will go to trial, judges ruled Alfred S. Irving Jr. .

The district has claimed that the community has frequently ignored city child protection laws. The lawsuit followed allegations that a teacher sexually abused more than a dozen young children for over a year, which are detailed in a separate lawsuit against the synagogue filed in 2019 by a group of parents.

DC is suing Washington Hebrew Congregation preschool for failing to protect children from alleged sexual abuse

In April, Racine’s office filed a summary judgment motion, a motion for the court to make a decision before a trial. Irving ruled some of the city’s allegations on September 13 and said others should be tried by a jury.

He ruled that the congregation violated safety regulations by hiring unqualified teachers and assistant teachers, failing to keep papers showing the staff were qualified, and conducting an unlicensed summer program.

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He also ruled that the congregation had failed to properly report suspected child abuse — separate from the parental sexual abuse complaint — to the county government on at least three occasions. Those cases, from 2016 and 2018, included allegations that employees used physical violence against children, court documents show.

By violating child safety codes, Irving said, the community violated the city’s Consumer Protection Procedures Act which, according to court records, prohibits fraudulent and illegal business practices.

“The Washington Hebrew Congregation broke the law and ignored rules designed to protect children in their care – with truly tragic results,” Racine said in a statement. “Child carers must hire qualified teachers and teaching assistants and promptly report suspected child abuse. With this ruling, we are one step closer to accountability.”

Washington Hebrew School says parents waived right to sue for sex abuse

Community member engagement director Jennifer Millstone said leaders took all allegations seriously and they were reported to DC police and Child Protective Services as soon as they were uncovered. She added that the municipality continues to conduct background checks on prospective educators and that staff participate in training and development.

“Ensuring the safety and welfare of children in our care is embedded in our Jewish values. Throughout the criminal investigation, we have provided support and resources to help them and their families,” Millstone said. “We sympathize with the anger and pain that families are feeling and have worked tirelessly with all parties to explore all possible solutions.”

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Irving sided with the community in one case, ruling that the district “failed to live up to its burden and court” over an allegation that Washington Hebrew violated the city’s non-profit business law. Several other allegations — including a claim that the synagogue violated a city ordinance requiring at least two adults with young children to be present at licensed child development centers — will face trial. A hearing date has not yet been set.

DC authorities say there is “insufficient…cause” to be arrested for alleged sexual abuse at a preschool

irving also denied the city’s motion for summary judgment regarding an allegation that the community “has violated, continues to violate, and may continue to violate the laws and regulations of the District of Columbia” , according to court documents. The judge Washington Hebrew wrote that it had implemented a corrective action plan from the Office of the State Superintendent of Education and that in 2019 the Board of Education granted a license for the community to operate a year-round facility.

In addition, OSSE inspection reports from 2020 and 2021 showed the community complied with agency regulations, according to court documents.

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Next, the court may decide whether to seek remedies for the infringements before the other claims are made, or wait until after.

Families are suing a Washington Hebrew preschool over alleged sexual abuse

This ruling comes after developments in the Trial between Washington Hebrew and a group of parents who said their children were sexually abused at school.

Court documents filed in July showed the synagogue argued that parents forfeited their right to file a lawsuit when they signed an activities waiver when their children enrolled in the school.

The paperwork signed by the parents included a document that read: “Neither the parents nor their children will have any claim against WHC or any of its employees for personal injury suffered ‘as a result’ of a child’s participation in these activities [of the Washington Hebrew Congregation’s Edlavitch-Tyser Early Childhood Center],'” Court records show.

But the parents understood these “activities” as “typical preschool activities,” their attorneys replied in court filings. “Not a single parent of the plaintiff who signed the release considered that it would cover injuries sustained as a result of their children being sexually abused by a trusted WHC worker.”

A hearing in the case has been set for March 13.

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