Kevin Jennings: The Right Person for “Safe School” Czar?

Sexual Relationship Between a Student and an Adult Male Met in a Bus Station Not Reported by “Safe School” Czar

Kevin Jennings: Obama's 'Safe School' Czar

Kevin Jennings: Obama's 'Safe School' Czar

Kevin Jennings, now the “safe schools” appointee in Barack Obama’s US Department of Education, is a prominent activist.  As the Executive Director of the Gay, Lesbian, & Straight Educators Network (GLSEN), he has done much to make schools safer for students who identify as gay.  But that alone doesn’t qualify him to be the “safe school” czar.  Rather, I believe it is the position he takes regarding the following account that casts doubt about his qualifications for such an important role.

Since Mr. Jennings began his career as a teacher it shouldn’t surprise anyone that he often uses former students to make various points when he is speaking to groups or in his books. One such student he referred to as “Brewster”.  In at least one talk to a GLSEN rally in Iowa in 2000, we get a clear picture into Mr. Jennings’ qualifications for protecting children and promoting appropriate school-parent communication.  Below is a transcript of the section of Jennings’ speech that speaks to “Brewster” and an audio of the speech can be heard here.

And it took me back to 12 years ago at Concord Academy in Concord, Massachusetts where I taught, where I was a very scared young gay teacher. I had been fired from my first job for being gay.

And in my second job I wasn’t sure how I wanted to deal with that. And I was in my first month on the job and I had an advisee named Brewster. Brewster was missing a lot of classes; he was in the boarding school so I said to his teacher, his first period teacher, I said, ‘next time Brewster misses a class I want you to tell me that he’s missed that class and, uh, I will go find him.’ So I went and found Brewster one morning when she had called and he was asleep in his dorm room.

And I said, “Brewster, what are you doing in there asleep?” And he said, “Well, I’m tired.” And I said, “Well we all are tired and we all got to school today.” And he said, “Well I was out late last night.” And I said, “What were you doing out late on a school night.” And he said, “Well, I was in Boston…” Boston was about 45 minutes from Concord.  So I said, “What were you doing in Boston on a school night Brewster?” He got very quiet, and he finally looked at me and said, “Well I met someone in the bus station bathroom and I went home with him.” High school sophomore, 15 years old. That was the only way he knew how to meet gay people. I was a closeted gay teacher, 24 years old, didn’t know what to say. I knew I should say something quickly so I finally said, My best friend had just died of AIDS the week before. I looked at Brewster and said, “You know, I hope you knew to use a condom.” He said to me something I will never forget, He said “Why should I, my life isn’t worth saving anyway.”

Mr. Jennings did not notify authorities that a 15 year old boy left the boarding school at night to travel 45 minutes away to a bus station and then went to an adult stranger’s home and likely had sex with him.  He didn’t notify anyone that the boy expressed that his life wasn’t worth living.

Today Jennings claims he had no reason to believe that the child was engaging in sex with a strange man he met in a bus station.  What do you think?  Why did he ask the boy if he used a condom if he didn’t think the teen was engaging in sex with strangers from bus stops?  Did he know the boy left school grounds or go to the home of a stranger?  Did he know the boy was severely depressed?  Of course he did – it is Mr. Jennings’ own accounting of the Brewster incident.  What was Mr. Jennings’ response to the National Education Association (NEA) for bringing this issue to light?  Jennings hired a law firm, Nixon Peabody LLP, and threatened to sue  the NEA for libel, saying there was no evidence that he knew the student in question was sexually active, or that he failed to report the situation. In fact, The Washington Times reported in 2004 that “state authorities said Mr. Jennings filed no report” with the Massachusetts Department for Children and Families, the department to which Jennings — as a Massachusetts teacher — would have been legally obliged to report the situation.

It is totally reasonable for parents to expect that the “safe school” czar is someone with an unambiguous record on appropriate school-parent communication.  Instead of threatening law suits, Mr. Jennings could have taken a different position.  Had Jennings said something like – “I was a new teacher, in over my head with that situation.  I should have alerted someone about a troubled 15 year old boy being 45 minutes away from his boarding school without permission and potentially having sex with an adult he met in a bus station,” then maybe he would deserve a pass – assuming the rest of his record stands up to scrutiny.

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Inspired by his own child’s encounter with an online predator, Tim Woda is a passionate advocate for protecting children from today’s scariest digital dangers – predators, sexting and cyberbullying. Tim raises awareness of these issues and shares his experience with parents through Internet & Mobile Safety Workshops hosted by schools, churches and other organizations. He is also a co-founder of KidSafe, developer of the world’s only Parental Intelligence System which helps parents keep their social and mobile kids safe while teaching healthy online habits.

Copyright © 2009 Tim Woda

Categories: Politics, Teens

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