Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Kiryas Joel school officials defend principal's actions seen in videos 

Officials of a Kiryas Joel school where a principal was observed on at least two videos in close physical contact with young boys are defending him and denying that any abuse occurred.

The Board of Directors of the United Talmudical Academy issued a statement calling the principal a respected Rabbi for more than. 30 years with an "unblemished professional record as an educator."

The board also said the videos have been mischaracterized by the media and critics of the Hasidic community.

The statement was released Tuesday, a week after the videos surfaced on the Internet and state police confirmed they had launched an investigation.

"The school principal is seen embracing the students who were sent to his office for behavioral issues," the statement read. "While this type of restraint may be unacceptable to some viewers, it in no way rises to the level of a criminal assault."

The videos were purportedly taken with a hidden camera above the principal's desk. He is seen holding the boys between his legs, seemingly kissing them on occasion and sometimes caressing their faces. It was not known who installed the camera or for what purpose.

Boorey Deutsch, an anti-abuse activist from Brooklyn critical of how Hasidic officials handle incidents of abuse, criticized the statement on Facebook Tuesday night. He called the principal's behavior "unacceptable" and urged him to be fired regardless of whether criminal charges are brought. He called on community leaders to have their teachers and administrators trained by professionals in how to deal with children.

"They need to clarify to the teachers and children that an adult kissing and holding a child between his legs and forcing him tightly onto his body is no way of showing love and dedication. Our children are not toys and no one should ever use them in this way," Deutsch wrote.

Officials said in the statement that they take the safety of children seriously and "do not tolerate any inappropriate contact between our staff and students but that "the evidence in this case in no way supports this accusation."

The board indicated that the videos were sent to authorities more than seven months ago and that they and the principal have cooperated in the investigation.

A state police commander, Major Joseph Tripodo, told The Journal News last week that a video had been investigated by the Orange County Child Abuse Unit in the fall but that criminal charges were not recommended.

Tripodo said that early on May 2 - the day after one of the videos was posted on WhatsApp - state police were notified by the Child Abuse Hotline in Albany that a complaint had been made against the principal. That prompted a new probe by state police investigators, the Child Abuse Unit and the District Attorney's Office, Tripodo said.

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