New York – An administrator at a prestigious Jewish middle school in New York City was arrested on suspicion for production of child pornography.
In an email to the school community on Monday, the principal of SAR Academy in the Riverdale section of the Bronx informed parents that Rabbi Jonathan Skolnick, the associate principal of Judaic studies, was arrested late Friday night. The email said that the school, formally the Salanter Akiba Riverdale Academy, had reason to believe that students there may have been victims of Skolnick.
“I know that this is an extremely difficult message to read and process on many levels,” Rabbi Binyamin Krauss wrote. “It is shocking to know that someone who we have trusted with our children has been accused of harming them. Despite the practices in place to protect our children, we are not immune to breaches such as the one that seems to have taken place at SAR.”
SAR has fired Skolnick, who was at the Modern Orthodox school for 14 months. The school is cooperating fully with the FBI. Beyond the claim of “production of pornography” and a mention of “inappropriate photos,” the email did not contain more detail.
From 2012 to 2018, Skolnick worked at the Yeshivah of Flatbush, an Orthodox day school in Brooklyn. Raymond Harari, the head of school, and Jeffrey Rothman, the school’s executive director, wrote in an email to the school community Monday that they are “not aware of any inappropriate behavior” on Skolnick’s part while he was at the school. They asked that anyone with allegations of misconduct contact the school and the FBI.
Last year, SAR commissioned a report about its previous employment of a teacher who abused at least a dozen students at the school, according to the report. Stanley Rosenfeld, now 84, who has admitted to abusing hundreds of boys throughout his lifetime, worked as an assistant principal at SAR in the 1970s and also taught English there a decade later. The school commissioned the investigation in January, soon after learning of the allegations against Rosenfeld.
“We strive to create a learning environment in which students feel comfortable coming forward with concerns or reports of misbehavior of any kind,” Krauss wrote to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency last year following the release of the report. “Nothing is more important than the safety of our students. If we were to learn of a report of abuse, we would work quickly to begin an investigation and ensure, throughout the process, that students are safe.”
Krauss wrote in his email Monday that the school’s administration will be discussing the arrest with students in the middle school on Tuesday, as well as students now in ninth grade who were under Skolnick’s authority last year. The school also encouraged parents to discuss the situation with their kids, and administrators are making themselves available to speak with parents on Tuesday and in the coming days.
SAR instituted a sexual harassment policy in 2014 that requires reporting credible allegations of sexual misconduct to law enforcement, as well as guidelines for reporting allegations within the school and investigating them.
See below for the full letter sent out to the parent body:
Dear Parents and Faculty,
I am writing to share some devasating news with you: Rabbi Jonathan Skolnick, our Middle School Associate Principal of Judaic Studies, was arrested late Friday night and charged with production of child pornography. We have reason to be concerned that SAR students may have been victims or potential victims and we are asking you to share any information you have with law enforcement as they continue to conduct their investigation. A direct FBI hotline to share information will be provided as soon as it is made available to us.
I was informed of these developments on Shabbat afternoon when the FBI and the NYPD Sex Crimes Task Force visited my home. We are cooperating with the FBI and law enforcement to gather any information about these horrible allegations, and have coordinated the timing of this letter with the FBI. We have terminated Rabbi Skolnick from his duties at SAR.
As a Middle School administrator, Rabbi Skolnick interacted with students in Grades 6, 7, and 8 during his fourteen-month tenure at SAR. We encourage parents of children in Middle School during the 2018-19 and/or 2019-20 school years to speak with their children. Parents should reassure their children that any students who responded to an email requesting inappropriate photos of themselves are not in any trouble. For tips as to how to speak to your children, click here.
Tomorrow, Tuesday, September 17 at 7:30 AM, I will conduct an open meeting for parents to ask questions and to express concerns with me. In the evening, from 5:00-9:00 PM, our team of guidance counselors and administrators will be available if you and/or your child would like to come in person to discuss anything privately. Also, on Tuesday, I will be speaking with all students in Grades 7 and 8 to let them know of the allegations, to ask if they have any information to share, and to reassure them of their safety. In 6th grade, I will broadly discuss what is happening in our community. We will be reinforcing our ongoing work of keeping our students alert and informed in an age-appropriate way, and will be reinforcing what steps they should take if they ever find themselves in a vulnerable situation in the future. Rabbi Harcsztark and Rabbi Kroll will also be speaking with students in Grades 9-12 tomorrow, and I will join him in speaking to the 9th graders. With the help of mental health professionals and with the collaboration of parents, SAR will provide access to counselling services to anyone who asks. If you are in need of support tonight, please call: 917-337-8807. An SAR staff member will respond to your call.
I know that this is an extremely difficult message to read and process on many levels. It is shocking to know that someone who we have trusted with our children has been accused of harming them. Despite the practices in place to protect our children, we are not immune to breaches such as the one that seems to have taken place at SAR. When such a breach occurs, we must and do address it swiftly and directly, cooperate with law enforcement fully, and communicate with transparency. It is my commitment on behalf of the school to make sure that we will continue to do all of that in this case.
Over the coming days, we will continue to communicate any additional information as we learn more. At the same time, we will do our best to make sure that the Middle School continues to function with minimal disruption to learning and school life, and we will share the steps we are taking on that front as well.
Rabbi Binyamin Krauss
Principal, SAR Academy