October 1st, 2009
08:34 PM ET
12 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. Tammy

    They don't have anything else to complain about. He who is without sin, let him throw the first stone. Geeze, I sneezed without using a Kleenex when I was a kid. Book me!

    October 1, 2009 08:37 pm at 8:37 pm |
  2. Sensible One

    Oh PLEEEEEEEEEZ Rethugs get over it. The man was 24 years old and that was 21 years ago.

    You live and you learn.

    Hannity need to arrested for being indignant.

    October 1, 2009 08:39 pm at 8:39 pm |
  3. catmom

    As usual Republicans/conservatives/right wingers are more interested in destroying everyone who is associated with President Obama without any regard to what exactly it is they might do for the country. They want to hold something 21 years ago that has nothing to do with anything against him why? I certainly hope that the President and Democrats have wizened up to their games and thwart this attack and the others the Republicans have planned. Their agenda is to destroy everyone around President Obama and eventually destroy him and the country. They hate America and it shows more and more each day.

    October 1, 2009 08:42 pm at 8:42 pm |
  4. Jennings is obviously warped.....

    how could he fail to report such an incident? With judgement like that,
    we can't have him in educaton.

    October 1, 2009 08:43 pm at 8:43 pm |
  5. Sean

    Is this a joke? Are Republicans really this desperate?

    October 1, 2009 08:48 pm at 8:48 pm |
  6. I am the flacid and powerless wizard of Rush

    The young man was 16, so no statutory rape cover-up.
    Sean is jealous of Beck and each are hunting for Obama scalps.

    Fox has only enough room for two ego-maniacal right wing blow-hards.

    October 1, 2009 08:52 pm at 8:52 pm |
  7. gypsydaveywithablowtorch

    If we start listening to the likes of Tony Perkins and Sean Hannity, this country is in big trouble. The holier than thou, gay haters are once again spreading their Christian hatred.

    October 1, 2009 08:52 pm at 8:52 pm |
  8. Dylan from MN

    Well not matter how false Hannity's claims are, the sheep who watch Fox News will believe it anyway, because, well...they're sheep....oh, and unintelligent fools.

    October 1, 2009 08:53 pm at 8:53 pm |
  9. Ms. M

    I would hope in 20 years that all of us have gained wisdom and knowledge. I am sure this same man would not act and say the same things that he did than. Let's focus on healing OUR COUNTRY and not tearing in farther apart.

    October 1, 2009 08:55 pm at 8:55 pm |
  10. mjm

    Perkins said Thursday, "You do not need special training to know child molestion is wrong."

    That sums it up. Can we find someone for this job who understands that minors having sex with adults is wrong?

    October 1, 2009 08:55 pm at 8:55 pm |
  11. Zion

    It's time for us to ask for Sean Hannity's resignation.

    October 1, 2009 08:55 pm at 8:55 pm |
  12. kman821

    The man sounds uniquely qualified and two decades wiser ... asking him to step down makes about as much sense as kicking a soldier out of his/or her service to our nation because they are honest enough to admit they are gay while in the military! The far-right needs to delve into some real issues like all those cousins marrying their cousins in the GOP!

    October 1, 2009 08:58 pm at 8:58 pm |
  13. 2010 can't get here fast enough

    "The facts? They don't necessarily match the accusations."

    So how CNN is/was he not guilty of condoning "statuatory rape."

    When is the no longer mainstream media going to stop making excuses for this administration and the CZARS that he has hired where at least 10 of them have checkered pasts?

    Does everyone get a Polanski when they screw up royally nowadays where liberals can explain it away or in the case of most of the media just IGNORE IT?

    He admits NOW that he made a mistake ONLY because those mean rascals at Fox etc, etc, etc are DOING ACTUAL RESEARCH and reporting the facts (see Van Jones and ACORN to name two).

    If you were still a legit NEWS SOURCE like you used to be CNN, you would do some research on the CZARS and fairly look into the good and the bad, they used to call it reporting, but in the age of Obama it is called cheerleading.

    October 1, 2009 08:58 pm at 8:58 pm |
  14. victim of republican greed

    The allegations don't match the facts. Why would anyone be surprised with a right wingnut witch hunt?

    October 1, 2009 09:01 pm at 9:01 pm |
  15. guy

    Bullying never stops if you're gay in this country. Pathetic.

    October 1, 2009 09:09 pm at 9:09 pm |
  16. hockey dad

    Hannity promotes hate,... stop reporting every soundbyte from the likes of Hannity, Limbaugh, Beck, Coulter and the rest, and eventually they'll fade away

    October 1, 2009 09:16 pm at 9:16 pm |
  17. Jac

    Sorry but it's crime for a teacher or health care worker to knowingly not report a sex crime. The author of this article can leverage his liberal bias and call it 'making hay,' I call it honest assessment.

    If the 15 year old student were a girl having sex with a 24 year old man, I wonder if this individual would have come to a different conclusion. In either situation it is nothing more than molestation and statutory rape. His defense that he didn't have 'training' to recognize this is ludicrous.

    October 1, 2009 09:17 pm at 9:17 pm |
  18. Brenan

    Mr. Jennings taught at my high school and was one of the best, most respected teachers I have ever seen. I am extremely proud of his accomplishments and am certain that he told that student exactly what he needed to hear. Mr. Jennings embodies what all educators should aspire to and should not be subjected to this bigoted politics of distraction. If Republicans actually cared about the welfare of children, they would stop the lies and come up with real plans for health care, education reform and the environment.

    October 1, 2009 09:19 pm at 9:19 pm |
  19. KU Rocks

    When I was little I was told a Bible stroy about religious leaders who brought a woman to Jesus to have him agree that it was ok to stone her to death. Instead, he spared the woman from death- and did not judge her- by telling her would be murders "any of you without sin cast the first stone." I am really sick of these modern day Pharisees looking for any reason to "stone" anyone in Obama's administration. Hannity, people in glass houses shouldn't throw stones, and yes we all live in glass houses. It is like we are living another McCarthy era. Well I am sick of it. Hannity et.al, it is time to become a part of the solution, not continue to be a part of the problem.

    October 1, 2009 09:21 pm at 9:21 pm |
  20. maurice from Ontario

    I wish Tony Perkins and the Family Research Council would concentrate more on what families can do to bolster that critical unit in society, instead of going head-hunting to weaken the current Administration's efforts to provide healthy learning environments across the USA.

    October 1, 2009 09:24 pm at 9:24 pm |
  21. Spb

    I am firmly convinced this will never end. There is no morality to these attacks and it does not matter the makeup of a person's
    carachter. What matters to these right wing nuts is that the people they are attacking are not the "kind" of people they approve of. they lost the election so now they are going to do what they did to Bill Clinton, distrupt, accuse, create smoke screens to destroy those they do not deem appropriate. Anything to delegitimize a legally elected President and those highly qualified people he selected to assist him in moving the country forward. In a democracy it is perfectly acceptable to question our leaders, it is a citizens duty to do so, but there is nothing legitimate about carachter assassination, conspiracy theories and obstruction. They are so obsessed with the Presidents destruction they would happily watch the country go along with it, tear us to shreds, watch us collectively fail, just to say they were right. I dont know hen this ends but intelligent people have got to take a stand against this kind of vitriol. Feel free to dislike the policies, advance civil discourse on valid disagreements but for the sake of our future respect the office

    October 1, 2009 09:30 pm at 9:30 pm |
  22. Bryan

    "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."

    Great...this Czar gets to hand out money. I thought the reason they dident have to be confirmed by the senate was that they were only "advisors" to the president.

    He is the school safety czar who tells children its ok to have sex with older gay men. Super...this is why we elected Obama right?

    October 1, 2009 09:42 pm at 9:42 pm |
  23. gary

    What a joke. How soon they forget about the guy in California caught on an open mike bragging about his affair after being given the highest honor of family values.

    As for Hannityity, O'Riely, Beck, and Rush. Wouldn't they all be great roll models in our schools. The Fox News group could teach proper conversation eddicute and Rush could teach "Just Say No" to drugs.

    What a group of hateful, unforgiving, evangelistic hypocrites.

    October 1, 2009 09:52 pm at 9:52 pm |
  24. Steven

    So, following this logic, does being bigotted and not respecting other people's civil rights in the last twenty years or so disqualify one from office as well? I assume, then, that most of the conservative and radical Right in this country, including the current Republican candidate for governor in Virginia, should be banned from office, let alone voted down.

    October 1, 2009 09:57 pm at 9:57 pm |
  25. from the middle

    Don't throw stones when you live in a glass house.

    October 1, 2009 09:58 pm at 9:58 pm |
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