WASHINGTON (CNN) – Kevin Jennings is the latest target for critics of the Obama administration.
Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council is calling for his resignation from the Department of Education. So is Sean Hannity. Fox News has accused him of condoning "statuatory rape."
The facts? They don't necessarily match the accusations.
Jennings is gay. He's also an expert in school bullying. Education Secretary Arne Duncan tapped him to run the Department's Office of Safe and Drug Free Schools. And that's when the trouble started.
Critics are making hay over counseling advice Jennings gave a gay student more than 20 years ago. Jennings, who has published several books, has written about the incident in his 1994 book "One Teacher in Ten." He wrote that when he was a 24-year-old teacher, a gay student confided that he'd had sex with an older man.
Jennings didn't report the incident to authorities. Instead, he writes, "I listened, sympathized, and offered advice." He has subsequently said he told the student: "I hope you used a condom."
In a statement Jennings released by the Department of Education on Wednesday, Jennings expressing regret over his decision.
"Twenty-one years later, I can see how I should have handled the situation differently," the statement said. "I should have asked for more information and consulted medical or legal authorities. Teachers back then had little training and guidance about this kind of thing. All teachers should have a basic level of preparedness. I would like to see the Office of Safe and Drug Free Schools play a bigger role in helping to prepare teachers."
But the knives are out for Jennings. Perkins said Thursday, "You do not need special training to know child molestion is wrong."
Perkins' Family Research Council has been gunning for Jennings since he got the job. The conservative group launched an online campaign called "StopJennings," which argues that Jennings in promoting homosexuality in schools.
A few facts about the case:
Back in 2004, The Washington Times wrote about Jennings and quoted a member of the National Education Association's Republican Educators Caucus alleging that Jennings "engages in unethical practice" - specifically that he "did not report sexual victimization of a student to the proper authorities."
A laywer representing Jenning's organization - the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) - responded to the Times in a letter stating that the student Jennings counseled was 16 at the time of the incident, and therefore of legal age in Massachusetts. If true, then the student was not the victim of a crime. CNN has confirmed the authenticity of this letter with a spokesperson for the law firm Nixon Peabody.
Click here to read the letter
The Family Research Council, however, points to a recording of a speech in which Jennings said the student was 15.
But Jennings has some determined supporters. Gerald Tirozzi, head of the National Association of Secondary Schoool Principals, recommended Jennings for the administration job.
"I've been working with Kevin for over seven or eight years now and his agenda is not only about gay kids," Tirozzi said. "It's been all kids."
He said Jennings' expertise in bullying has earned him recognition from school principles in conservative as well as progressive districts. Jennings was appointed to a gubernatorial commission by former Massachusetts Gov. William Weld, a Republican. He also seems to have the the strong backing of Education Secretary Arne Duncan.
"Kevin Jennings has dedicated his professional career to promoting school safety," Duncan said Wednesday. "He is uniquely qualified for his job and I am honored to have him on our team."
So what has Jennings done since taking office? The Department of Education said he's focused on school safety issues such as classroom discipline, teacher safety and bullying. They point to the violence in Chicago's schools as a sign that more work in this area needs to be done. The Department also provided a list of the millions of dollars worth of safety grants that have been awarded by Jennings' office since he joined the administration.