On April 15, 2019, Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC, on behalf of the families of eight children, filed a complaint in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia alleging that the Washington Hebrew Congregation’s Edlavitch Tyser Early Childhood Center and its Head of Schools for Early Childhood Education failed to protect the children from a known and avoidable risk of sexual abuse.
The families of eight children between the ages of three and four have accused the preschool at the Washington Hebrew Congregation, as well as the head of that school, of enabling a predator to sexually abuse the children for over a two-year period. Despite multiple warning signs over a prolonged period, the Congregation’s Edlavitch Tyser Early Childhood Center and its Head of Schools for Early Childhood Education, Deborah “DJ” Schneider Jensen, failed to protect children from a known and avoidable risk of sexual abuse, according to a civil lawsuit filed today by all eight families.
The children who, with their parents, brought forth these allegations have implicated Jordan Silverman, a teacher at the Congregation’s preschool, as their abuser. Silverman was hired to teach and care for children despite having no professional background in teaching or providing child care. The crimes reported by both male and female children reveal that repeated and prolonged abuse occurred on the premises of the educational facility when Silverman was allowed and encouraged to be alone with the children individually and in small groups, a violation of D.C.’s “two-deep” policy. The abuse included the most grievous, demeaning and damaging forms of sexual abuse.
The 70-count complaint carefully details an alarming degree of willful negligence by both the Early Childhood Center itself and DJ Jensen. As noted in the complaint, “systemic, regular sexual abuse of such young children and in large numbers in an educational environment does not occur in the absence of neglect by the school administrators of their duty to operate the environment in a manner that thwarts the ability of would-be and unknown predators to access children alone, without visibility or accountability, in order to abuse them.”
In March of 2016, Jensen recruited and hired Jordan Silverman to work with children at the preschool as an assistant teacher, among other roles. Prior to his hiring, Silverman had no professional background in teaching or providing child care. As detailed in the complaint, concerns related to Silverman’s behavior were reported to Jensen as early as one month into Silverman’s employment, and repeatedly thereafter, by both parents and teachers. In fact, throughout his tenure, Silverman was observed by other teachers and parents to be engaging in behaviors towards children that could be part of a purposeful “grooming” effort as a prelude to abuse. Concerns that Silverman was taking children alone to certain areas of the school, that he was sometimes late returning children after being alone with them and that co-workers were unable to locate him while he was alone with children were also shared with DJ Jensen, who allegedly rejected these and other concerns about Silverman, her hire, as unfounded without initiating any type of investigation.
Despite the concerns expressed to her over more than a two-year period, Jensen refused to order Silverman to stop his unusual behavior, made no attempt to determine the validity of the allegations, took no action to restrict Silverman’s unsupervised access to children and failed to report the alleged misconduct to any law enforcement or child welfare authority.
In August 2018, Silverman was finally placed on administrative leave following a young child’s disclosure of sexual abuse. A number of similar allegations quickly followed and the District of Columbia’s Metro Police Department launched a criminal investigation that remains ongoing. As of the date of the filing, DJ Jensen remains in her capacity as Head of Schools for Washington Hebrew’s Early Childhood Center, although has announced her intention to leave at the end of the current academic year.
The plaintiffs – child victims, their mothers and fathers – filed the lawsuit anonymously and will ask the Superior Court judge to allow them to proceed that way in order to protect the identity of the victims.
Among the counts brought against Washington Hebrew Congregation’s preschool and DJ Silverman are several forms of negligence, including that of Jensen for hiring Silverman and of the school for hiring Jensen, as well as infliction of emotional distress. The families seek damages in order to help manage many of the repercussions frequently associated with abuse: costs of medical, psychological and psychiatric evaluation and care and medications; costs of vocational, rehabilitative, occupational and physical therapies; loss of earning capacity and future lost earnings; cost of transportation to and from health care providers; educational expenses; excess child care expenses; and the cost of parenting and family therapies, among many others.