D.C. Hebrew school says parents waived right to sue for sexual abuse

A leading Reform synagogue in the district argued that parents pursuing allegations of child sexual abuse waived their right to sue when they signed activity waivers during enrolling their children in school, according to court documents.

In 2019, a group of parents sued the Washington Hebrew Congregation, claiming leaders at the Edlavitch-Tyser Early Childhood Center ignored warning signs when a teacher sexually assaulted toddlers. The lawsuit also said the employee was allowed to be alone with students despite district regulations requiring at least two adults to be present with toddlers at licensed child development centers.

Now, recent developments in the years-long trial have brought renewed attention to the case. In July, attorneys for the Washington Hebrew Congregation filed a motion for summary judgment, a request that the court rule before a trial. Lawyers for the school argued that in the documents signed by the parents, they waived their right to sue.

Among those documents the parents filled out was a consent and liability waiver which stated that “neither the parents nor their children will make any claim against WHC or any of its employees for injuries sustained” at the following “a child’s participation in these activities”. [of the Washington Hebrew Congregation’s Edlavitch-Tyser Early Childhood Center]’, court documents show.

But the parents understood that these “activities” included “typical preschool activities,” the parents’ lawyers replied in court records. “Not a single plaintiff parent who signed the waiver contemplated that it would cover injuries suffered as a result of the sexual abuse of their children by a trusted WHC employee.”

Because the teacher has not been criminally charged or listed as a defendant in the lawsuit, The Washington Post does not name him. Following a high-profile investigation in 2018, DC police said there was “insufficient probable cause” to make an arrest. Fourteen children were allegedly abused, according to court documents.

Karen Dunn, attorney for nine of the plaintiff families, urged the court to deny the Washington Hebrew Congregation’s motion for summary judgment.

“Among other nonsense, WHC’s reading of the text of the release would require the court to conclude that the damages caused by the sexual abuse were damages caused by participation in a school activity,” Dunn said in the filing. The employee was also not properly vetted, claim the families – who are not identified in the lawsuit.

Joan Meier, a professor and director of the National Family Violence Law Center at George Washington University, called the school’s defense outrageous.

“It’s almost unimaginable to me that the standard liability waiver would apply to child sexual abuse, because that waiver is designed for the kinds of things that happen in preschools, like kids falling from a structure. escalation,” Meier said. “It is impossible for a parent to put their children in school if that were the case.”

Lawyers for the school declined to comment on the argument that the parents waived their right to sue.

“The families’ claims are the subject of a pending trial. The families’ identities and all evidence regarding their children are sealed, so the Washington Hebrew Congregation cannot comment outside of court on the merits of their claims. He will continue to defend himself in court,” a statement from a school representative said.

The statement also said the families’ allegations have been taken seriously since they were reported.

“As soon as the Washington Hebrew Congregation became aware of the allegations, it reported them to the Metropolitan Police Department and Child Protective Services,” the statement said.

The school on Friday filed a response to the plaintiffs’ objection to summary judgment, calling their argument ‘fundamentally flawed’, adding that there is ‘no material factual dispute’ over the child abuse allegations. while in the custody of Washington Hebrew Congregation staff.

“The plaintiffs’ entire case hinges on the fact that the minors were injured ‘on school property, during the school day, by a member of the teaching staff,'” the school’s attorneys wrote.

The defendants also said that the plaintiffs’ argument that “sexual abuse is not a school activity” is essentially a request for the court to void waivers signed by the parents. By that reasoning, the school’s attorney said, any injuries could be considered not school activity to “bypass the release.”

A trial date is scheduled for March 13.

Emily Davies contributed.

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