Congregation Agudas Achim has received credible reports that, several years ago, one of our longtime educators engaged in inappropriate communications through social media with a teenager. Our initial review has revealed that the incident was not isolated and we have launched a fuller review with a qualified and independent outside counsel to determine the extent of the behavior.
If you have children currently enrolled in CAARS or former CAARS students who are now in high school or college, please speak with them about whether an educator has ever engaged in inappropriate communications either online or in person. If your child is aware of any such communications, we would appreciate learning more about it.
You may contact:
- Rabbi Blumofe, 512-735-8404
- Rabbi Swedroe, 512-735-8404
- Adra Lustig, 512-735-8420
- Outside counsel Sara Leon, 512-656-4546
Please see below for the letter that was sent to the congregation on December 22, 2021 about these incidents and a series of Questions and Answers.
Important News about a CAA Educator
December 22, 2021
Dear Agudas Achim community,
We are reaching out today with some important, painful, and difficult news.
We have received credible reports that, several years ago, one of our longtime educators engaged in inappropriate communications through social media with a teenager outside our community. Our initial review has revealed that the incident was not isolated and that several young women in our community have also received inappropriate communications over a period of several years.
The safety and protection of our children is our single highest priority. We have terminated this individual, removed them from all educational settings, and reported the behavior to both the Austin Police Department and Child Protective Services.
The incidents involved sexually suggestive communications on social media, both openly and while posing as a teenager, and one off-campus interaction. We have not received any allegations of inappropriate physical contact or sharing of images but have launched a review with a qualified and independent outside counsel to determine the extent of the behavior.
If you have children currently enrolled in CAARS or former CAARS students who are now in high school or college, please speak with them about whether an educator has ever engaged in inappropriate communications either online or in person.
If your child is aware of any such communications, we would appreciate learning more about
it. You may contact Rabbi Blumofe, Rabbi Swedroe, or Adra Lustig or report it directly to our outside counsel, Sara Leon, at 512-656-4546 firstname.lastname@example.org
Since receiving the reports, synagogue leadership has taken the following steps:
- Contacted the Austin Police Department and began actively cooperating with the investigation they launched in direct response to our outreach.
- Reported to Texas Child Protective Services.
- Hired Sara Leon & Associates, PLCC, which has experience in this area, to perform a review of this individual’s contact with current and former students and members of the broader community, and identify areas of improvement in synagogue and CAARS policies.
- Allowed the educator to respond to the allegations through our outside counsel.
- Informed security officials at the Dell Jewish Community Campus of the reports and our actions.
Both the APD investigation and our internal review are still in their early stages. To protect the integrity of these reviews, we are not releasing this individual’s name at this time. Law enforcement supports this approach.
We have wrestled with this decision, recognize that many in the community will want to know that information immediately, and remain open to sharing additional information based on our findings. We aim to be transparent while also respecting the privacy of former students who have made reports.
We want to thank the many other dedicated educators, teachers, and tutors in our community. They serve our students and families admirably and honorably, and we have faith in them as they prepare to return when CAARS reopens after winter break.
We are at a challenging moment for Congregation Agudas Achim. Rabbi Blumofe and Rabbi Swedroe are always available for pastoral care, and we will help connect community members with counseling and other mental health resources. You may call the Shalom Task Force Hotline, a national Jewish hotline that offers anonymous counseling and support, at 888-883-2323.
As we have done so often in the past two years, we ask you to come together and support one another as we seek to understand the extent of these actions and heal as an unshakeable community.
Neil F. Blumofe
Director of Youth Education and Engagement
Questions and Answers
When did these incidents occur, and what was the nature of them?
We recently received reports about an incident of inappropriate social media communications with a teenage girl outside of our community that occurred about four years ago.
Our initial review revealed that the incident was not isolated and that several young women in our community have also received inappropriate communications over a period of several years. One instance involving inappropriate communication in addition to an unauthorized off-campus interaction was reported to the synagogue more than five years ago, and disciplinary action was taken. We are reviewing that episode as well.
We have not received any allegations of inappropriate physical contact or sharing of images.
Who made these allegations?
An adult member of our community learned of the incident this month and immediately reached out to synagogue leadership.
When did CAA learn about this, and what did you do?
Synagogue leaders learned of the first allegation about inappropriate conduct on social media on December 8. Within 24 hours, we determined that the accused educator would not be allowed to return to the classroom, reported the incident to APD, shared relevant documentation with authorities, and filed reports with Child Protective Services.
We then engaged an outside firm to assist in identifying any other inappropriate behavior that may have occurred and to evaluate potential improvements in our internal policies and practices.
Why are you alerting the community now?
APD initially advised us against discussing these allegations publicly or alerting the individual who has been accused — doing so might have undermined APD’s investigation just as it was starting up. Police have recently informed us that they believe we can now question the educator and share information within our community.
If these allegations are true, could there be other incidents?
We don’t know. We are launching the review, led by outside counsel, to find out and we urge CAA families to share any information they think could be relevant.
Why is a private firm needed to help with the review?
The synagogue’s clergy and lay and educational leaders take these allegations extremely seriously but do not have expertise in conducting these types of reviews. So we have engaged Sara Leon & Associates, PLLC, to support us in that role. Synagogue leaders will make all final decisions about policies, personnel, and other issues, based on the results of the review.
Do you conduct background checks for teachers?
Yes. We conduct criminal background and reference checks on all teachers. In this case, they did not reveal anything related to conduct with minors.
Why don’t you release the individual’s name?
We want to be transparent with our community and realize it would be helpful for families to know which teacher is involved. But we also want to respect due process as the review and investigation continue. Law enforcement supports our current approach, and we will continue to have this conversation.
What counseling opportunities are available for our community members?
Rabbi Blumofe and Rabbi Swedroe are available for pastoral care. You may also call the Shalom Task Force Hotline, a national Jewish hotline, for confidential counseling, support, or guidance in speaking with your children about these issues at any time at 888-883-2323.