The Obama administration is standing by the man chosen to oversee the Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools, who has drawn fire from conservative pundits for a decision he made 21 years ago.
In 1988, a student told Kevin Jennings, who was then a 24-year-old schoolteacher, that he was engaged in a sexual relationship with an older man. Jennings did not notify authorities about the situation, which meets the criteria of a statutory rape, and told the youth he hoped he “knew to use a condom,” according to Jennings own account of the discussion in a lecture he delivered in 2000.
This is not breaking news. Jennings recounted the incident in One Teacher in Ten, a 1994 book he penned about gay teachers, and in a 2007 memoir entitled Mama’s Boy, Preacher’s Son: A Memoir.
Jennings founded the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network in 1990, and left the organization this summer to join Obama’s Department of Education.
Conservative pundits on television, talk radio and the blogosphere have questioned whether Jennings is fit to run the office, and have used him as an example of Obama’s extensive employment of “czars” – leaders of significant federal posts who are not vetted and confirmed by the Senate. (Jennings’ position was created by former President George W. Bush.)
Amid the recent discourse about the incident, Jennings issued a statement admitting that he “should have handled this situation differently. I should have asked for more information and consulted legal and medical authorities.”
The White House and Department of Education made it clear that they are standing behind Jennings.
“Kevin Jennings has dedicated his professional career to promoting school safety,” Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in a statement issued this week. “He is uniquely qualified for his job and I’m honored to have him on our team.”