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. Mike, Syracuse, NY

    Whatever the truth, just one more shady character in Obama's zoo.

    October 1, 2009 09:59 pm at 9:59 pm |
  2. Tom

    GOP Witch Hunt.

    So, an Administrative Official now has to resign due to a mis-step 20+ years ago, during a different time, different expectations and training?

    Where does this nonsense stop?

    And why doesn't this type of "Accountability" seem to hold true for GOP Governors, such as Sanford and Ensign, who have also shown very, very poor judgement.

    Oh, yeah.... Jennings is a Democrat and Gay. He's gotta go. Snark.

    October 1, 2009 10:00 pm at 10:00 pm |
  3. Fitz in Texas

    Look at the kind of people this President surrounds himself with. Wake up America, time is running out and you need to get a clue here.

    October 1, 2009 10:00 pm at 10:00 pm |
  4. gary

    I forgot about Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council. He should head up US Histroy and the constitution about separation of Church & State and of course the freedom of religion.

    October 1, 2009 10:00 pm at 10:00 pm |
  5. RR

    I don't know about 20 years ago, but today it is a felony for a teacher NOT to report cases of abuse or rape.

    October 1, 2009 10:05 pm at 10:05 pm |
  6. Nevada dude

    Republicans are fixated on gays because they are closet homosexuals. Just look at Hannity–he screams 'in the closet'.

    serously get over it everyone. the climate was so different 20 years ago, how can anyone be critical of what anyone said or did on such a touchy subject. it would be better if everyone learned to get over their homophobia so that when future incidents occur those faced with the problem wont have to agonize over what is best to do.

    October 1, 2009 10:08 pm at 10:08 pm |
  7. vlj in mn

    This character assassination stuff has got to stop. Can we, for once, get all of the facts before dismissing a qualified person? I just don't get it. I was raised to respect and find good in others. You can keep the family values stuff. It fits when convenient and I refuse to bring up my family to exclude certain "persuasions", which is really what this is all about.

    October 1, 2009 10:09 pm at 10:09 pm |
  8. Becky Montgomery

    The student in question was 16 and that was the age of consent at that time in that state. It was not illegal, even if we find it inappropriate. There would have been nothing to report to authorities because it wasn't against the law. Possibly he could have referred the student for counseling, but if he had, there would be a question fo privacy.

    Republicans need to quit trying to get as many Dems fired as they can and take care of their own. They are living in a glass house and have nothing positive to contribute lately. They need to use their energy to make the world better instead of trying to tear it down.

    I am an independent that is repulsed by the Republican party as it stands now–crazies and extremists being negative about EVERYTHING President Obama does, even if they have done it before.

    October 1, 2009 10:16 pm at 10:16 pm |
  9. unshrub

    And republiccans are complaining about Obama wasting his time. What is wrong with these people? People want to get work done and all republicans can do is whine.

    October 1, 2009 10:16 pm at 10:16 pm |
  10. gail

    Here we go again. Please make sure that you put in the story that the young man was 16 , the age of consent in Massachusetts at that time so no crime was committed because it was a consensual relationship. I think that the reason that the media jumps on this type of thing is the fact that it involves homosexual sex . I hope that Mr. Jennings stays and fight this crap that is being thrown at him. Telling that student that it wa a mistake to have unprotected sex in the 80's was good advice since it was the height of the AIDS epidemic. I am tired of Faux Noise smearing good people and the so called"liberal" media just following the smear and not reporting facts.

    October 1, 2009 10:23 pm at 10:23 pm |
  11. CM

    Did this come from Beck the one who will stop at nothing. How long before people are going to stand up and defend this country against such rectoric and hateful acts in an attempt to destroy the President. I for one will teach my children to stand up for this country. This will probably not be shown just because I listed Beck's name; I for one am not afraid of him and do not listen to his lies.

    October 1, 2009 10:23 pm at 10:23 pm |
  12. worriedmom

    These appointed Czars are really worrisome. This guy would never pass a background investigation to work for the FBI, CIA or Police, so why does the White House appoint him CZAR and let him around our children. I don't care if he was 24 when he bragged in his book about his advice to a high school kid, a zebra does not change it stripes!!
    Hope this is another one down the drain! too many good and honest people out there that would be great at this job!

    October 1, 2009 10:28 pm at 10:28 pm |
  13. Sam SixPack

    Welcome to the twilight zone.

    Imagine if the student were a young girl.

    Do you really want teachers to, even passively, encourage YOUR children to have sex with old men?

    This guy was so proud of this, he risked putting it in his book – he bragged about it. Only after somebody said, "isn't that kind of like statutory rape or something?" did Jennings decide he might want to back away from his position.

    People are covering for him because they're up to their eyeballs in the health care "reform" scam. They’re afraid the negative publicity will erode the dwindling support for the scam. For a start, they’re trying to pull the plug enough grandmas to divert $500 billion to greedy insurance execs.

    These are the same folks who are looking the other way while Obama dangles your kids in front of the Taliban – just long enough to pass the health care "reform" scam.

    October 1, 2009 10:30 pm at 10:30 pm |
  14. T'SAH from Virginia

    An older guy could have been 16 for all we know??? 17??? Maybe the kid made it up because he was trying to FIND HIMSELF!!! The kid obviously was not FORCED to have sex!! The teacher was 24 – He mentioned it in his novel?? Where is the kid today – probably GAY and living happily ever after??
    inSANNITY and BECKy thrives on disrupting anything that has to do with the Obama Administration!!! WHAT IF this young kid needed to hear what he heard at the time!!! WHAT IF Jennings said something different that this kid did not want to hear and he committed suicide as a result!!!?? WHAT IF this kid wanted to hear that it was okay to be GAY!!! Come on now, THINK about it – 20 years ago GAY was still in the closet. I am sure Jennings learned something from this – he had 20 years to think about it!!!

    LEAVE IT ALONE!!! NO law was broken!! For all we know he could have been ‘anticipating’… JEEZ

    October 1, 2009 10:32 pm at 10:32 pm |
  15. gary

    The American people should be outraged by the behaviour of the republican party. The party of hate will destroy your country. You have a real chance to show the world how great you can be, but not if you keep supporting these republican fools.

    October 1, 2009 10:35 pm at 10:35 pm |
  16. Michael Rush

    Perkins and his entourage of social conservatives should either state policy issues or concerns they have with Jennings or put a stop to unfounded slandering of his name. While these Republicans may have intolerant religious convictions, their immature complaints should not, and cannot transfer into the political spectrum. Until Perkins can learn empathy and stop indulging in his own inflated sense of self and his warped sense of morality, the educated sector of the nation will have to put up with his idiotic ravings.

    October 1, 2009 10:37 pm at 10:37 pm |
  17. munchmom

    He should be "eating crow"-he is a mandated reporter and whether or not it was consensual, heterosexual or homosexual intimacy and the young man was a minor, this man should have reported it as child sexual abuse! What a wonderful role model this man is to not even protect an abused child....

    October 1, 2009 10:42 pm at 10:42 pm |
  18. DJS

    The word usage and placing make a decent apologia – but this is clearly not a serious reporter! CNN should be almost as embarrassed by this "report " as we Americans should be that our new President found Jenkins to be an appropriate policy director and role model for American kids.

    October 1, 2009 10:49 pm at 10:49 pm |
  19. Tracy

    "Stupid is as Stupid does" Republican party=Forest Gump

    October 1, 2009 10:56 pm at 10:56 pm |
  20. Carl

    It's almost impossible to be kind-hearted, respectful, and loving while still doing the right thing in theses situations. Do you make a big deal of it and go after someone or do you console and offer advice and let the student make the decision. I think it's in bad form that FOX would bring this sort of thing up to label the man as condoning statutory rape, but it doesn't surprise me. Fox can be despicable.

    October 1, 2009 10:57 pm at 10:57 pm |
  21. tim b

    Perkins doesn't like him cause he is gay, period. If the guy admitted to having not wiped a little tinkle off the seat once when he was six this Republican backed hatchet-punk would try to use that. Really dispicable but you won't see too many Republicans calling him out.

    October 1, 2009 11:04 pm at 11:04 pm |
  22. Shelly

    Ignore the Right's insinuations. They are angry and hate everyone that is not like them....white and right wing religious zealots.

    October 1, 2009 11:15 pm at 11:15 pm |
  23. patrick

    As a gay man, this makes me sick. If gay kids would have had protection then maybe it would have been easier to counsel the kid into seeking help for the situation. Tony Perkins needs to quite preaching hate. We gay americans don't want everyone to be gay. We just want people who have struggled with their sexuality the way we have to have an advocate. I wish I would have had someone like that to have come out to. The debate and hatred toward homosexuals is out of control. We are just people that want to contribute to our communities and be happy. Have homes jobs, travel. Will and Grace is not all of us. Some of us are students that work full time and have a partner who works as a school counselor and doesn't get home till 8pm from back to school night. America, we are a part of you. We have worked for the greater good of this nation, we have died for you. We have excepted you even when you haven't excepted us. We did not leave. But we want our space to be who we are. We are liberal, conservative, apathetic, christian, jew, muslim, white, black, and every other thing one can be. But gay seems to define us more then anything else. We are just americans.

    October 1, 2009 11:18 pm at 11:18 pm |
  24. Marie in California

    Jennings handled the 15-year-old male student incident poorly, to say the least. Did he break existing laws in doing so? Had it been a 15-year-old girl being sexually victimized by an older man, would he have acted in the same manner? I think not.

    I don't know about elsewhere, but in California schools we have a legal mandate to report such sexually predatory acts to Child Protective Services and the police. Why didn't Jennings do that?

    Makes me question Jennings' overall judgment.

    October 1, 2009 11:30 pm at 11:30 pm |
  25. nolaf

    I'm from Louisiana and am still residing in the state. I'm so tired of Tony Perkins. I'm thinking that it may be no coincidence that he and David Duke resemble each other VERY strongly. I simply wish he would go away......and take a few dozen others with him!

    October 1, 2009 11:39 pm at 11:39 pm |
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