|NUMBER 286||THE NEWSPAPER OF EDUCATION RIGHTS||NOVEMBER 2009|
|House Republicans Call for Removal of 'Safe Schools' Czar|
Jennings wrote a foreword for Queering Elementary Education, wherein he asserted, "We must address antigay bigotry . . . as soon as students start going to school." In his own book, Always My Child, he calls for a "diversity policy that mandates including LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender] themes in the curriculum."
House Republicans also cite Jennings's "self-described history of ignoring the sexual abuse of a child." In One Teacher in Ten, Jennings relates a conversation with a high-school sophomore in which the boy divulged a sexual relationship with a much older man he had met in a bus station bathroom. Jennings recalls that he responded to the admission by saying, "I hope you knew to use a condom." By the end of the conversation, Jennings had so reassured the student that the boy "left my office with a smile on his face that I would see every time I saw him on the campus for the next two years, until he graduated."
The former student has since defended Jennings, declaring he was 16 at the time of the conversation (16 is the legal age of consent in Massachusetts), and that he had "no sexual contact with anybody at the time." Jennings's various accounts of the incident are inconsistent with those statements, however. As his documented comments indicate, Jennings believed that the boy was underage, and that he was indeed sexually involved with the older man. Critics charge that Jennings had a duty to notify authorities and the boy's parents under mandatory reporter laws. Mandatory reporters are professionals who have contact with children or other vulnerable populations in the ordinary course of their work. They include teachers, doctors, social workers, and others, and are legally required to report suspected abuse, including sexual abuse.
Jennings recently issued a statement expressing regret over the incident: "21 years later, I can see how I should have handled the situation differently. . . . I should have asked for more information and consulted medical or legal authorities." He added that he would like to see his agency "play a bigger role in helping to prepare teachers" to respond to such situations.
Another criticism leveled at Jennings in the letter to President Obama is that Jennings's memoir, Mama's Boy, Preacher's Son, describes his "use of illegal drugs without expressing regret or acknowledging the devastating effect illegal drug use can have." As the "safe schools czar," Jennings is charged with ensuring schools are drug-free, as well as gun-free and nonviolent, and the Republicans argue he is "unfit to serve in this capacity, as well."
Jennings is one of about 40 so-called czars appointed by President Obama. Unlike Cabinet secretaries, these positions do not require Congressional approval. Czars report directly to the President and "have the power to shape national policy in their subject area," according to a February CBS News report.
Thus far, the Obama administration remains fully supportive of their appointee. Education Secretary Arne Duncan praised Jennings's devotion throughout his career to promoting school safety. In a statement reported by the Associated Press (10-30-09), Duncan said Jennings is "uniquely qualified for his job, and I am honored to have him on our team." (New York Times, 10-16-09; FoxNews.com, 10-03-09).