October 1st, 2009
08:34 PM ET
13 years ago

Education official becomes the latest target for Obama critics

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.

Filed under: Arne Duncan
soundoff (71 Responses)
  1. Silicon Valley Man

    When Tony Perkins or Sean Hannity express anger about Larry Craig, Mark Foley, David Vitter, Mark Sanford, Newt Gingrich, John Ensign, or any other Republican who has been caught in scandal, then maybe they will have some credibility.

    When they go after anyone connected to Obama, no matter how distant, and dig up anything with a whiff of scandal, no matter how trivial or how long ago, and then make a big fuss and angrily demand resignations, it's nothing more than hypocrisy.

    These guys are pathetic. Why anybody should listen to anything they have to say is beyond me.

    October 1, 2009 11:45 pm at 11:45 pm |
  2. Edwin

    So Fox "News" twists the facts to support their own agenda. So how is this different from any other day?

    It's too bad conservatives don't have an actual news organization out there that they can learn truth from.

    October 1, 2009 11:47 pm at 11:47 pm |
  3. Ralph

    As fellow Coloradan, we are truly sorry and embarrassed for Tony Perkins. He and all of his F-o-F tribe are a band of hypocritics . Instead of using their religion as basis for creating good will and caring for those less fortunate, they use their massive financial lobbyist power to try to bend politics for their own personal benefit. Truly, they should be ashamed of themselves for using the word of God as a business slogan.

    October 1, 2009 11:48 pm at 11:48 pm |
  4. Wow... really?

    This is made up hysteria. Pure bigotry at work. I hope Obama stands behind this man and even tells people to shut up.

    And they harp about the other side not getting their priorities straight.

    October 1, 2009 11:53 pm at 11:53 pm |
  5. nathan

    Jennings disgusts me. Anyone who has even a trace of shame should be shocked by what he did.

    October 1, 2009 11:53 pm at 11:53 pm |
  6. WatchTheFlows (Buffalo, NY)

    The Family Research Council once again demonstrates why it will never be taken seriously: Twisting this story into a claim that Mr. Jennings approves of "child molestation" is not only outrageous, but patently absurd. Thinking Americans know better.

    October 1, 2009 11:55 pm at 11:55 pm |
  7. Doyle Wiley, MI

    It doesn't matter if the kid was gay or straight, a kid tells him he/she had sex with an older adult he should have reported it. Period!

    October 2, 2009 12:14 am at 12:14 am |
  8. Tom in VA

    The FOR-SURE way of know that you are doing EXACTLY the right thing is when you have Fox News (Those terms are mutually exclusive, right?), Sean Insanity, and Tom Perkins (perhaps the LEAST Christ-like man in America) calling for you to resign.

    Mr.Jennings,stand firm. Don't even acknowledge their comments. You are doing GOOD..not bad. You do the right thing becuase it's RIGHT. You have my support.

    October 2, 2009 12:19 am at 12:19 am |
  9. i want my finger back

    fire him. another all star buddy of Obama's. who vets these people?

    October 2, 2009 12:22 am at 12:22 am |
  10. D. D.

    No this isn't a target- this was out there and again the Administration allowed the man to get paid knowing Fox would catch it. They have nothing else to do but look for a President Obam flaw.

    October 2, 2009 12:45 am at 12:45 am |
  11. BJC

    Didn't Jennings deny this incident ever happened? He has just admitted to it since the recording of him talking about it. In the recording Jenning's does say the boy was 15!

    October 2, 2009 12:46 am at 12:46 am |
  12. bob in LA

    I suggest Mr Perkins look at what Stutory Rape laws entail and also look to his friends and comteporaries- yes I mean conservatives before looking beyond them. the old phrase clean your own house should tell him that. And if it sbible quote she wants, he wihtout sin , throw the first stone. Old proverb- he in galss houses ( congress) should not throw stones.
    What is he afraid of or what is he hiding.
    Me thinks ye dust protest too much!

    October 2, 2009 12:46 am at 12:46 am |
  13. Nothing 'Stand Up' about Sen John Ensign (R-NV)

    I do not say this lightly.

    But it does have to be said.

    Tony Perkins and Sean Hannity have proven themselves to be self-righteous, sleazy, opportunistic parasites whose sole purpose in existence is to incite some Americans to hate other Americans.

    They're like any virus that feeds off a free society that grants them right to be horrible human beings with impunity.

    The virus that is Tony Perkins has followers who will feed him no matter what, but the virus that is Sean Hannity can be defeated if his rating at Fixed "News" continue to drop and advertisers start abandoning him the way they fled from that other virus that is Glenn Beck.

    October 2, 2009 12:55 am at 12:55 am |
  14. Peoples Voice

    These people never run out of lies to tell.

    What's really sad is they hide behind Jesus to commit all their evil programs. If I were a Christan I would be very upset with these people disgracing my faith.

    Why do you real Christians allow them to continue to get away with this stuff?

    October 2, 2009 12:59 am at 12:59 am |
  15. Michael

    With fox NOISE, the FACTS NEVER quite meet the accusation!
    They don't allow FACTS to stand in the way of their agenda.
    What's new about that?

    October 2, 2009 01:00 am at 1:00 am |
  16. Paul

    He is gay; to ultra-conservatives and the Beck fringe movement this disqualifies him from doing anything. I think it is time to start digging deep into the lives these "righteous" people looking out for America. Wonder what we'll find?

    October 2, 2009 01:03 am at 1:03 am |
  17. LMC

    The atmosphere 20 years ago is different from today. Reporting the incident would have outed the fact the young man was gay. Life would have been very hard for the student after that. It's hard enough today, but it would have been a horrible situation then.

    October 2, 2009 01:04 am at 1:04 am |
  18. Jesus Christ the Son of God Against StOoPiD Dumb Ass Republicans

    Sean Calamity Hannity is NOT trustworthy. He is so biased and so far to the right that Hitler would be afraid of him. Everyone knows that Republicans are not educated people. They depend on uneducated hillbillys who still think the McCoys and Hatfields are at war, for their base supporters. Sean Hannity exagerrates the lies he blindly believes on FAKEs News. In fact, Hannity believes that he is sinless and above all wrong. He is just a dumb backwards idiot with a big mouth and no brains.

    My name is Jesus and I approve this message.

    October 2, 2009 01:07 am at 1:07 am |
  19. Jose from Tampa, FL

    Wait... He's been attacked by the right wing religious nuts??.. The horror, the horror. Wouldnt anyone think that is because he's gay right??.. I mean, we've never seen the frc attacking gay people now do you??.. Strange, is almost like the repuglicans and their right wing followers wakes up every day looking for someone to hate. Is their mantra. "What? You are gay, black, hispanic or anything other than white christian?. Then we hate you of course". Thats their prayer everyday.

    October 2, 2009 01:12 am at 1:12 am |
  20. mike

    Another classy choice by our idiot in chief, uhbama. uhbama is a disgrace, and so are the idiots he hangs around with.

    October 2, 2009 01:22 am at 1:22 am |
  21. Anthony - Lakewood, Ohio

    Get a life Tony Perkins. Hating gays is so 1980s Christianity. Take your witchhunt somewhere where it's relevant. Maybe you're more suited for the Middle East somewhere.

    October 2, 2009 01:27 am at 1:27 am |
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