Kevin Jennings on Brewster: “I can see how I should have handled this situation differently”

The Brody file at CBN is reporting a statement from Kevin Jennings regarding Brewster/Robertson/Thompson: 

“Twenty one years later I can see how I should have handled this situation differently.  I should have asked for more information and consulted legal or medical authorities. Teachers back then had little training or 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.”

-Kevin Jennings, Assistant Deputy Secretary, Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools

Brody reports that Education Secretary Arne Duncan also released a statement:

“Kevin Jennings has dedicated his professional career to promoting school safety. He is uniquely qualified for his job and I am honored to have him on our team.”

-Arne Duncan, Education Secretary

Well, that leaves some unanswered questions (why did he imply through his lawyer that he did not know what the boy was doing?), but it is a welcome acknowledgement that teachers should not follow his example.

Updates to come…

The Associated Press has the story. Media Matters ignores Jennings own statement that the young man in question was 15. In any event, he acknowledged that he should have sought advice.

The Brody File broke this story yesterday but contains a curious statement that I cannot verify. Brody said:

Basically, Jennings pretty much apologized for the incident a couple decades ago.

I wrote to ask Brody for a source on an apology with no reply as yet. In the 2004 letter from his law firm Nixon Peabody, Jennings did not apologize for anything. In fact, he denied much of what he now acknowledges.

jenningsretractionletter

This is a denial, not an apology.

Does Diane Lenning get an apology now?

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  • Timothy Kincaid

    I just discovered that the age of consent in Massachusetts is 16. Here I was thinking that Brewster was 3 years underage.

    However, at the time Massachusetts had sodomy laws so a “crime” was occurring regardless of his age.

  • Mary

    I don’t like to excuse this kind of thing however, from his frame of reference and the climate that existed for gay teachers, gay students whose parents found out etc… I can see how easily an error in judgment had been made. And if this same situation arose today, I would expect a different response from an adult without exception or excuse.

  • Mary

    It is a crime in most states for children under the age of 15 to engage in any sex at all and WE ALL know it is going on. The test of criminality for gauging response (from a gay man’s perspective) at that time in the past is not valid when we excuse ourselves to ALLOW today’s children sexual education and the knowledge that they are having sex illegally.

  • David Blakeslee

    I would like to see the Office of Safe and Drug Free Schools play a bigger role in helping to prepare teachers.”

    Classic political maneuver, “my mistake is a reason for me to lead a political action to remedy this problem!”

    Goofy.

    They have moved into full CYA mode.

    Wrong man for the job…unfortunately he proved it by the number of times he told the story without alarm for the child’s safety (from sexual predators)

    @ Timothy,

    One year is a lot of time in the life of an adolescent…In the Roman Polanski case, some used to same argument, “she was almost 14.”

    Children all; exploitative…Especially in an extraordinarily marginalized minority as a kid with SSA is…

    If something goes wrong, society is more likely to blame him than Roman Polanski’s victim…and many people blame her.

  • Mary

    It is disconcerting that he told the story without pause.

  • hazemyth

    Jennings’ biggest mistake was talking about a decidedly queer experience to a non-queer audience. Stories of this sort have been quite commonplace in queer people’s lives. Given that, they often seem less shocking to other queer people. Yet, that jadedness is in itself a sad testimony. Perhaps Jennings was not shocked by such a story but that does not indicate that he approved of the student’s behavior. In fact, it seems clear that Jennings was fully cognizant of the disturbing and dangerous nature of the student’s experience. It’s at the center of Jenning’s point in telling the story — that the marginalization experienced by queer youth can thrust them into risky and even self-destructive behavior.

    As Mary notes, conventional responses to the student’s behavior were likely not an option. They may have resulted not only in the older man being prosecuted for statutory rape but also in the student (and even Jennings) persecuted for their homosexuality. As he tells the story, it seems that Jennings did try to address the central issue — the child’s internalized homophobia and resultant low self-esteem — as well as provide key damage control (regarding safe sex). If you’ve ever done outreach to at-risk youth, you’ll realize that’s often the best that can be done.

    It’s sad to me that Jennings is being so facilely vilified for his supposed negligence. The situation is far less cut-and-dry than the majority of straight people could ever realize.

  • Principal

    hazemyth and others – Nice try. I don’t buy it. I am older than Jennings, been in education for a longer time and know that teachers were well prepared for these duties at the time Jennings was trained.

    Arguing for different rules for different kids is a non-starter.

  • http://theformers.wordpress.com Debbie Thurman

    Hazemyth, believe it or not, I can almost get inside Jennings’ head on this thing. We have pretty much pilloried the guy by now, but what is probably a bigger question at this point is, how has the climate for kids like Brewster changed since that incident? How unsafe are gay students — from their own immature, secretive behavior (possibly placing them in the clutches of predators) and from anti-gay bullying or discrimination? What will “safety” look like for Jennings?

    Further, what does Jennings believe needs to still be done in schools to make them safer for ALL kids? He is going to be a policy maker, so what will that look like? Will it look like gay activism? Or will he be sensitive to needs across the board, like substance-abuse in schools — the other part of his title?

    If his detractors are seeing the issues through a conservative (he would say prudish) filter, is he seeing them through his gay, progressive, “anti-authoritarian” filter? Is this just a diversity move or a blatantly pro-gay political one? Are his detractors all homophobes or do they have some legitimate concerns? Are we to simply ignore the controversial things Jennings has said and done in the past? And will the homophobic card be used in his defense as the racist one is used whenever Obama’s ineptness is mentioned?

    Is a man like Jennings simply too controversial to do an affective job? Will he be anti-Christian? Anti-ex-gay? Will he always have to look over his shoulder? Or will the powerful, liberal NEA give him “diplomatic immunity”? Will teachers become so safety-indoctrinated that they will trade real teaching for anti-bullying sheriffs’ badges? Will they have to pass a progressive litmus test?

    I imagine these questions are on the minds of many.

    There ought to be plenty to focus on once the Brewster controversy has died down. I just hope reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmetic don’t get further lost in the shuffle.

    We all can sympathetically consider confused, closeted or trying-to-come-out gay students. Are we in any way agreed on what will improve the school experience for them, while not making it more difficult for others?

  • http://thom-signsofastruggle.blogspot.com/ Thom Hunter

    During the time period just a little earlier than when Kevin Jennings was teaching and says he was unprepared to handle such a situation, I was a teacher at a private boarding school in Texas. We were well-prepared for such a situation and had been cautioned that personal matters, including sexual issues, were for trained counselors to handle. We were to guide the students in that direction. We also knew even then that sex between adults and minors was illegal and our legal responsibility was to report it. On top of that, we communicated the overall message that sexual activity among teenagers was not acceptable. Jennings would have been equipped with all this information and should also have been able to call upon common sense. His sexual preferences really have no bearing here; it’s an issue of right and wrong. He was unable to distinguish between the two and failed the student, his family and the school system.

    The passage of time does allow for maturity and forgiveness. I can agree that he made a mistake, but perhaps one of the consequences of that one is to not be in the position he is in today.

    In schools today, the student’s issue would unlikely go quietly before a teacher. It would have made the rounds through text messages and the student would have already had considerable feedback, most of it based on various levels of cultural awareness and acceptance of sexual issues. It might have hit My Space already and, who knows, You Tube. In some ways, today’s openness is more damaging than yesterday’s secretiveness. However, people like Jennings obviously abused confidentiality.

    I don’t think “Kevin Jennings” and “Safe Schools” belong in the same sentence. Obviously he is gifted and has a great deal to offer. Maybe a more suitable position in education would be better.

    Thom

  • carole

    @Hazemyth,

    The situation is far less cut-and-dry than the majority of straight people could ever realize.

    I think you aren’t giving credit to the “messy” and non “cut-and-dry” situations in life most adults face on occasion and which educators, in particular, come across frequently. This particular situation in which a gay youth confided his sexual orientation and experimentation with a teacher is not, I repeat NOT a situation any more (nor less, I might add) difficult, than any number of other situations/scenarios that also present the educator with a conundrum because neither choice A nor B nor C seems a solution that offers both physical and emotional protection for the minor.

    Kids reveal things to adults in authority ( willfully and accidentally reveal), things like sibling incest, parental incest, verbal or physical abuse, criminal behavior committed by their loved ones, neighbors, friends. The list is endless… and in each and every case making the admission known to higher authorities results in what you might call “trouble” for the kid; such revelations are often accompanied by “Please don’t tell anyone….”

    That this situation involved a gay young man makes it no different than all the other difficult scenarios I’ve seen.

  • carole

    Sorry about the italics–didn’t mean to add them.

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