Kevin Jennings, the head of the U.S. Department of Education office of safe and drug-free schools, got the backing of top department brass last week after new criticism in conservative circles over decades-old advice he gave to a high school student who told him about apparent sexual involvement with an older man.
Warren Throckmorton, a psychology professor at Grove City College, in Pennsylvania, and an independent blogger, recently posted audiotape on his Web site in which Mr. Jennings refers to the conversation.
In the comments, made at a conference of the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network, or GLSEN, which he founded, Mr. Jennings said that when he was a high school teacher in 1988, a sophomore told him he had gone home with an older man he met in a bus station. Mr. Jennings said he told the boy, “I hope you knew to use a condom.”
A Washington Times editorial last week said that Mr. Jennings’ “job ... is to ensure student safety, and this scandal directly calls into question his ability to perform that job.”
Mr. Jennings now says he wishes he had handled the situation differently.
“I should have asked for more information and consulted medical or legal authorities,” Mr. Jennings said in a statement. “Teachers back then had little training and guidance about this kind of thing.”
U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has backed Mr. Jennings, stating that he’s “honored to have him on our team.” Some education groups, including the National Association of School Psychologists, also have come to his defense. Mr. Jennings’ appointment drew opposition from some conservative groups last summer. (“Bullying a Top Concern for New Safe-Schools Chief,” July 15, 2009.)
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
A version of this article appeared in the October 07, 2009 edition of Education Week as Jennings Backed In Comments Flap