The attorney general’s office has criminal authority over the District’s child-care licensing regulations. The office also enforces the city’s mandatory reporting laws, which state that school officials, teachers and other workers who care for children are legally obligated to report suspicions of sexual abuse to government officials.
The attorney general’s office declined to specify the nature of its investigation.
“We can confirm that the Office of the Attorney General is conducting an investigation of the Washington Hebrew Congregation preschool, however we will decline to comment further at this time,” David Mayorga, a spokesman for the office, wrote in an email.
The Office of the State Superintendent of Education, the D.C. agency that oversees early-childhood development centers, has the authority to strip them of their license if regulators find they have broken licensing rules. The office did not disclose the scope of its investigation.
On Monday, eight families of children who attended the preschool sued Washington Hebrew Congregation and its director of early-childhood education, alleging that reports of potential abuse by a preschool teacher had been ignored.
“The families are encouraged by the Attorney General’s criminal investigation,” said Michael Dolce, an attorney from the law firm Cohen Milstein who is representing the families who filed the lawsuit.
Dolce said in a statement that the school’s negligence enabled the alleged sexual abuse to occur.
In August, D.C. police launched an investigation into allegations of sexual abuse at the Jewish preschool. That investigation is ongoing and no charges have been filed, authorities said.
The parents’ lawsuit alleged that the teacher — whom The Washington Post is not naming because he has not been charged with a crime and was not named as a defendant in the lawsuit — took 3- and 4-year-old boys and girls to remote areas on campus and sexually abused them. At least seven toddlers were abused by the teacher, who is named in the lawsuit, according to court documents.
The families who filed the lawsuit are not identified in the document and, according to Dolce, decided to remain anonymous to protect their children’s privacy.
The children, the lawsuit states, “were subject to systemic and regular sexual abuse on school property, during the school day, by a member of the teaching staff.”
Washington Hebrew did not immediately respond to requests for comment Thursday. But on Tuesday, after the lawsuit was filed, spokeswoman Amy Rotenberg said the synagogue is fully cooperating with the criminal investigation and denied some of the allegations of negligence set forth in the lawsuit.
“Although there has not been any arrest, these allegations are very troubling; 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,” Rotenberg wrote in an email.
The teacher identified in the lawsuit no longer works at the preschool. He was hired in March 2016, according to court records.
An attorney for the teacher denied the abuse allegations.
The director of early-childhood education has not returned requests for comment from The Post, although the synagogue’s spokeswoman confirmed that the director, Deborah “DJ” Schneider Jensen, received those requests.
Founded in 1852, Washington Hebrew Congregation is a prominent Reform synagogue in the District’s Tenleytown neighborhood, according to its website. The congregation opened a preschool 35 years ago and has a campus in the District and a second in Maryland. Tuition at the preschool is about $16,000 for full-time students.
The preschool is closed this week for spring break.