A preschool at a prominent Jewish synagogue in Washington, D.C., enabled sexual abuse against numerous children for years, a new lawsuit filed Monday alleges.
The families of eight children previously enrolled at Washington Hebrew Congregation’s Edlavitch Tyser Early Childhood Center say the preschool and its leader, Deborah “DJ” Schneider Jensen, failed to protect students from a child sexual predator over a two-year period, according to the complaint.
The families allege Jordan Silverman, a teacher at the preschool, subjected numerous children, including their own, to “regular and systemic” sexual abuse beginning in March 2016. The lawsuit alleges the children were between ages 2 and 4 at the time of the abuse.
The 74-count complaint alleges the abuse, perpetrated against both male and female children, included the most “grievous, demeaning and damaging forms of sexual abuse.”
“Mr. Silverman categorically denies engaging in any inappropriate or illegal contact with children at Washington Hebrew Congregation,” his attorney, Shawn Sukumar, told HuffPost. He declined to comment further. Silverman has not been charged with a crime.
Metropolitan Police Department of the District of Columbia confirmed to CNN that an investigation into alleged sexual abuse of children at the school is currently ongoing.
Jensen, head of schools for Washington Hebrew Congregation, hired Silverman to teach at the preschool despite having no professional background in teaching or child care, the complaint alleges. Previously, he worked for 20 years as a photographer in Vermont, before moving to Bethesda, Maryland, according to the lawsuit.
Silverman was often alone with the preschoolers, the lawsuit alleges, even though child development centers in Washington are required to enforce a “two-deep policy,” which requires two adults to be present at all times if one or more children are present.
The policy is “the number one deterrent of children being abused in an institutional setting,” Michael Dolce, the attorney representing the families, told HuffPost. “It’s a very effective way to guard against the unknown abuser.”
But Silverman was “allowed and encouraged” by school administrators to be alone with individual or small groups of children on an almost daily basis, according to the lawsuit.
Dolce would not describe specific aspects of the alleged abuse, citing the ongoing police investigation.
“Each child has required mental health professional intervention,” Dolce told HuffPost. “It’s just been incredibly difficult for the children involved.”
Parents and teachers reported concerns related to Silverman’s behavior as early as one month after he was hired, but Jensen took no action, the lawsuit alleges.
Jensen “ignored, rejected and purposefully silenced repeated warnings and expressions of concern, from parents and teachers alike, that Jordan Silverman might be engaged in inappropriate conduct towards children,” the complaint states.
The complaint continues: “The children who were abused are left to suffer with profound, grievous and debilitating mental health harm, with expected life-long and developmental adverse impact.”
Jensen remained head of schools for the synagogue as of Monday, though she has announced plans to leave at the end of the school year. Silverman was placed on administrative leave in August 2018 after a young child accused him of sexual abuse, according to a press release issued by Dolce’s law firm.
Washington Hebrew Congregation said in a statement that “child safety has always been our top priority,” indicating that it reported the allegations to the police after the August 2018 complaint.
“Although there has not been any arrest, these allegations are very troubling,” the synagogue said in its statement. “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.”
Need help? Visit RAINN’s National Sexual Assault Online Hotline or the National Sexual Violence Resource Center’s website.