WASHINGTON, D.C. – Attorney General Karl A. Racine today announced that Washington Hebrew Congregation (WHC), a synagogue that also runs a childcare center, will pay $950,000 to affected families and the District for violating DC laws designed to protect children and creating an environment that put children at risk for abuse.
“What happened at Washington Hebrew Congregation is every parent’s worst nightmare,” said AG Racine. “Instead of protecting the children under their care, Washington Hebrew disregarded the law and failed to report incidents of harm, hired unqualified teachers, and ran an unlicensed summer childcare center for years. Today, we’re holding them accountable for putting DC’s youngest, most vulnerable residents in harm’s way.”
In August 2018, parents with children at WHC’s Edlavitch-Tyser Early Childhood Center learned that there had been allegations of sexual abuse. In the months that followed, it became clear that WHC had failed to protect the health, safety, and positive development of children under its care. WHC’s noncompliance with District laws and regulations governing childcare centers created an environment ripe for abuse. To date, fourteen families have reported that their children were victims of sexual abuse perpetrated by an unqualified, unsupervised assistant teacher, who was employed at the center from approximately January 2016 to August 2018.
The District’s Consumer Protection Procedures Act (CPPA) prohibits a wide variety of deceptive and unlawful business practices. Under the CPPA, it is illegal to make misrepresentations about products or services, or to provide products or services that violate other District laws. In October 2020, the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) filed a consumer protection lawsuit against WHC alleging that it violated District law by placing children in the care of unqualified, unsupervised staff, operating in violation of its license, and misleading parents about the safety of its programs. In September 2022, the Court found WHC liable for violating several of the childcare center regulations, including:
- Operating unlicensed summer programs: Prior to 2019, WHC’s license allowed it to operate a childcare facility during the school year months only. However, between 2016 and 2018, it operated an unlicensed summer childcare program, known as Camp Keetov, that provided care to more than 150 children over three summers.
- Placing children in the care of unqualified staff members: WHC repeatedly hired assistant teachers who failed to meet the District’s minimum requirements for experience and education for childcare providers. Under District law, assistant teachers must hold at least an associate degree or a high school diploma along with a training certification and competence in the field of early childhood education. The Court found that several childcare staff members – including parents of children attending the childcare center and college students hired for the unlicensed summer daycare – were unqualified in violation of District law. The Court also found that WHC failed to maintain records required by law to demonstrate that its staff is qualified.
- Failing to adequately report incidents of harm to children: On at least four occasions, WHC failed to timely report incidents that could adversely affect the health, safety, and welfare of children enrolled at WHC’s childcare center to the Office of the State Superintendent of Education, even though such incidents were serious enough to end in the termination of those staff members’ employment.
As a result of OAG’s action, WHC must pay a total of $950,000, distributed in the following manner:
- Payment to families: $300,000 paid to families who enrolled their children in WHC’s summer childcare program, Camp Keetov, during the summers of 2016-2018.
- Payment to DC charity: $100,000 paid to a District-approved charitable organization in light of the District’s claims that WHC violated the District’s Nonprofit Corporations Act (NCA).
- Civil penalties: $550,000 paid to the District for civil penalties and legal costs.
WHC must stop all practices that violate the CPPA, including by misleading or making any misrepresentations to District consumers, and ensure that it maintains all required District of Columbia childcare licenses and that it maintains compliance with District of Columbia childcare licensing regulations.
This matter was handled by Jennifer Jones and Nicole Hill of the Public Advocacy Division and Peter Saba, Bayly Leighton, and Lauren Haggerty of the Public Safety Division.
Read the full consent order here.
How to Report Illegal or Unfair Business Practices
Consumers who have been the victims of unfair or deceptive business practices can file a complaint with OAG by calling (202) 442-9828, emailing firstname.lastname@example.org, or filling out a consumer complaint form online.