Evan Zauder, a teacher of the sixth grade at a Jewish school in Paramus NJ, was arrested on May 3 on charges of possessing child pornography. The FBI arrested Zauder at his apartment in New York City. It was there that agents found hundreds of images and videos of minor boys engaged in lewd acts. Zauder, who taught at the Yeshiva Noam school, faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in jail and a fine of $250,000. He has been released on bail but must remain within New York and New Jersey.
The Forward, a newspaper that serves the Jewish community, reported that the principal of Yeshivat Noam, Rabbi Chaim Hagler, issued a statement to parents on May 2 stating that school officials had “no reason to believe that any of our students are in any way involved or directly affected.” The accused is a engaged in rabbinical studies at the prestigious Yeshiva University in New York City. According to The Forward, Mayer Fertig of Yeshiva said he was “saddened and dismayed” upon hearing of the arrest and charges.
According to the federal complaint, investigators found images of boys as young as 7 ½ years of age on Zauder’s computer. No evidence has emerged that Zauder may have raped or otherwise molested any children.
Rabbi Shaul Feldman, director of the U.S. and Canadian wing of the Orthodox youth movement ‘Bnei Akiva,’ upon hearing of the incident issued an email to parents informing them about the arrest. Rabbi Feldman also noted in the missive that Zauder had served as a head counselor for the organization’s tours of Israel over the last two summers. The accused had also served as a youth director at Congregation Bnai Yeshurun in Teaneck NJ and as a part-time youth director at Hebrew Institute of Riverdale in the Bronx and with Bnei Akiva: a Modern Orthodox Zionist youth group.
According to the Jewish Week, Rabbi Hagler did not return calls seeking information about whether the school performed a background check on Zauder. However, Rabbi Hagler told the Forward that Zauder “had been the ‘subject of extensive interviews and received multiple positive background references.’” An article on the incident appearing on the Jewish Week website noted, “These comments would seem to indicate that the school did not conduct a formal background check on Zauder, something it is not legally mandated to do and which, if limited to a criminal history, nonetheless may not have turned up Zauder’s online activities.”
The New Jersey Department of Education has required since 1986 that all new school district employees should be fingerprinted and as part of a criminal history background check. No such requirement exists for New Jersey’s private schools, for which such background checks remain optional. New York State law requires all applicants for certification and all prospective employees of public school districts, charter schools and boards of cooperative educational services to undergo fingerprint-supported criminal history background checks.
A law was passed in 2007 in New York that authorizes yeshivas and non-public schools to fingerprint and undertake FBI criminal history background checks of their employees. However, these measures are not required under law. Fewer than 1 percent of New York State’s 1,900 private schools were requiring fingerprint checks on job applicants. A researcher found that in 2010, only one out of the nearly 400 Jewish schools in New York State had conducted a fingerprint check. However, mandatory fingerprinting and background checks for all Jewish school employees have become a high priority among child-safety advocates.
By contrast, the Catholic Archdiocese of New York has what it calls a ‘Safe Environment Program.’ It requires, inter alia, that all prospective staff members, including volunteers, in regular contact with children must submit to a background check and fill out a questionnaire calling for basic background information, such as prior employment and character references. The background check is limited to verification of a person’s identity, existence of a prior criminal record and listing on state sex-offender registries.