In the wake of a Jewish Week investigation that raised questions, in part, about how a Modern Orthodox day school in Baltimore handled allegations of child sexual abuse against one of its veteran teachers, the board of the school seemed to double down this week in asserting that it had acted properly.
The board of trustees of the Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School stated that it had at all times employed “best practices” in dealing with the teacher, Rabbi Shmuel Krawatsky, and had been unaware of key information regarding his case.
Though the board said no misconduct on the part of the rabbi was found related to Beth Tfiloh during his 15 years at the school, he was nonetheless terminated immediately.
In a series of statements issued by the leadership of the school since the article was published last week, Zipora Schorr, the director of education of the Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School, first appeared to support the rabbi, a Judaic studies teacher in the middle school. She wrote on Jan. 17 that the case — based on allegations of abuse against three boys at Camp Shoresh, a Jewish day camp in western Maryland, in the summer of 2015 — was “resolved” by the authorities in February 2016, after which Rabbi Krawatsky was reinstated in his Beth Tfiloh post. He had been placed on leave in the interim. (In an interview with The Jewish Week several weeks ago, Schorr said she believed in the rabbi’s “complete innocence,” though she did not explain why.)
Rabbi Krawatsky did not respond to requests for comment, but his attorney said the rabbi continues to proclaim his complete innocence and denies that any misconduct took place.
(The Jewish Week article last week noted that an initial determination by Frederick County Child Protective Services of a preponderance of evidence of abuse against the rabbi in the case of two of the boys was, on legal appeal, downgraded to not a preponderance of evidence of abuse. But the CPS determination remains on record and was not “resolved.”)
On Jan. 18, Schorr issued another statement saying that “as a result of the allegations detailed” in The Jewish Week article, Rabbi Krawatsky has been “terminated” and would “not be on the premises and will not have any contact with our students.”
On Monday night, the school’s board of trustees issued a detailed statement affirming that “this matter has from its inception been handled professionally, sensitively and with the utmost concern for the safety of our children.”
It asserted that “there is much in the article that is incorrect and subject to question,” though it did not offer details.
(The board letter incorrectly implies that The Jewish Week misreported the Orthodox Union’s claim that it tried to contact the school with concerns about the rabbi. Schorr, responding to the OU’s claim, denied that she had been contacted by the OU, as previously reported.)
The board noted that there have been no indications of misconduct by Rabbi Krawatsky at Beth Tfiloh in his 15 years teaching at the school, but it was decided that “the explosive nature of [The Jewish Week’s] allegations and the associated publicity made it impossible for Rabbi Krawatsky to effectively carry out his educational duties at Beth Tfiloh.” It authorized his “immediate termination and prohibition from returning” to the school’s campus, adding that the decision “should not be viewed as a determination as to the truth of the media account.”
Beth Tfiloh officials assert the school “was not privy” to a police investigation that took place after the summer of 2015. But the police report of the investigation, a public document, states that on Sept. 2, 2015, the police investigator and Child Protection Protective Services (CPS) caseworker made an “unscheduled visit” to the Beth Tfiloh day school to interview Rabbi Krawatsky. Maj. Tim Clarke, spokesman for the Frederick County Sheriff’s office, confirmed to The Jewish Week that the visit took place.
Upon arriving at the school, the report states the investigators were met by middle school principal Rabbi Yehuda Oratz and “welcomed and provided a private room where they could meet with and interview Mr. Krawatsky.”
Further, as reported here last week, though Schorr initially denied knowledge that Rabbi Krawatsky was twice “indicated” by CPS for child sexual abuse — the term used for a finding that there was a preponderance of evidence to suggest sexual abuse — when confronted with email documentation that the Board of Education made her aware of the first indication, Schorr subsequently confirmed in an email: “I was informed of the indication via email on Sept. 25, 2015 from Frederick County Child Protective Services unit.”
Schorr subsequently confirmed in an email: “I was informed of the indication via email on Sept. 25, 2015 from Frederick County Child Protective Services unit.”
She stated that Rabbi Krawatsky was immediately suspended at that time.
He was reinstated after the “indication” was downgraded, following a legal appeal, to “unsubstantiated,” a term used for noting there was not a preponderance of evidence of sexual abuse.
In a Jan. 5, 2016 letter from Chris Rolle, the defense attorney who represented Rabbi Krawatsky in the appeal, Rolle called Schorr as a witness for a Jan. 13 appeal hearing. Schorr could not be reached for comment as to whether or not she was subpoenaed. (The case was settled prior to adjudication or appellate review.)
The board letter states that, “In the absence of any credible evidence from an objective source that he engaged in any inappropriate conduct, Beth Tfiloh had no basis to take any employment action against Rabbi Krawatsky.”
But the “indications,” at least one of which Schorr acknowledged in her email, are from CPS, a state agency.
[According to the Maryland Department of Human Resources, an “indicated” finding is accessible to any agency or institution that wishes to vet employees. A CPS Background Clearance Request form posted on the department’s website authorizes CPS to release “indications” of child sexual abuse.]
‘In the absence of any credible evidence from an objective source that he engaged in any inappropriate conduct, Beth Tfiloh had no basis to take any employment action against Rabbi Krawatsky.’
-Beth Tfiloh Board
The school’s legal and communications representative, Amy Rotenberg, told The Jewish Week that neither the school board nor administration would provide further comment with regard to these claims. The board continues to affirm its full “support” of Schorr’s “careful and thoughtful decision-making in the interest of our school community and the children.”
Further, the board letter states that Beth Tfiloh is advised by the Baltimore Child Abuse Center regarding procedures and “best practices” to ensure “the safety of our children.”
The Jewish Week spoke with Drew Fidler, Beth Tfiloh’s primary contact at the Baltimore Child Abuse Center, in December 2017. (Schorr provided Fidler’s name when asked for the school’s correspondent at the Abuse Center.)
Fidler, who confirmed that she began working with Beth Tfiloh in June 2017, stated to The Jewish Week that an “unsubstantiated” ruling does not indicate an alleged abuser’s innocence. She stated she would not recommend a school rehire a person with a CPS “unsubstantiated” determination on his or her record without further investigation.
The board acknowledged receiving a March 22, 2016 letter from state authorities stating sexual abuse was “unsubstantiated” in the case of Rabbi Krawatsky. He was reinstated to his position teaching children with no further investigation.
(In Maryland, the third potential outcome of a CPS investigation is “ruled out,” meaning that based on the available information, child maltreatment did not occur. As previously reported, this determination was not reached in the cases involving Rabbi Krawatsky.)
Fidler, who confirmed that she began working with Beth Tfiloh in June 2017, stated to The Jewish Week that an “unsubstantiated” ruling does not indicate an alleged abuser’s innocence.
If a school does choose to rehire a person with an “unsubstantiated” claim on his or her record, Fidler recommended that special restrictions and guidelines be enforced to inform and protect students. She said that “best practices” would also include publicizing these restrictions and guidelines.
(Fidler’s professional recommendations are corroborated by the several experts consulted for The Jewish Week’s original report.)
The board letter states, and Ms. Schorr confirmed to The Jewish Week over the phone in December, that Rabbi Krawatsky was reinstated to his position with no personalized guidelines or restrictions.
Rotenberg, the Beth Tfiloh representative, declined to specify any factual inaccuracies in the Jewish Week’s initial report. She stated only that the online headline of The Jewish Week’s initial report, “Did Baltimore’s Orthodox Community Turn a Blind Eye to Child Sexual Abuse?” was “false and defamatory.” She requested that The Jewish Week retract the headline.
In a separate statement from the board on Monday, “in the interest of transparency and full disclosure,” Beth Tfiloh reported that Dr. Jonathan Lasson, a psychologist hired as a Judaics and neuroscience teacher in the high school “in the middle of the 2016-17 school year,” was no longer working at the school, as of Monday. The board said it was “disappointed to have learned” from a blog post that Lasson was placed on probation by the Maryland Board of Examiners and Psychologists.
(Lasson did not respond to request for comment.)
The court order, a public document, details a complaint from a female patient of inappropriate behavior on Lasson’s part. It was signed and published on Oct. 3, 2017.
The school said it had employed a “background check per our usual protocol and screening of new hires and Dr. Lasson was clear.”
The Beth Tfiloh website welcomed Lasson on the staff Oct. 24, 2017.