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Thursday, October 01, 2009

CHILDREN, SAFE SCHOOLS AND WASHINGTON 

CHILDREN, SAFE SCHOOLS AND WASHINGTON

I have remained silent about all of the “Special Advisors” and assistants to President Obama, despite my serious misgivings about their qualifications and personal agendas. However, as a parent and grandparent, and past and present volunteer with youth groups, I cannot in good conscience remain silent about one of President Obama’s appointments.

Kevin Jennings has been named as the person in charge of the “Safe School” program for the Department of Education. As such, he is to be responsible for programs and policies that are supposed to protect our children while they are in school. I find this hard to understand based on his admitted actions when actually confronted with a real case of child abuse.

Let us first agree that a sex act between a fifteen year old and an adult significantly older than the child is statutory rape, and certainly qualifies as child abuse. No High School Sophomore should be considered fair game for a predatory adult, and an adult who craves sex with a minor is certainly a predator.

In 1988, while a teacher at a High School in Concord Massachusetts, Mr. Jennings counseled a 15 year old student who was engaging in a sexual relationship with an adult who was significantly older, that began in a bus station in Boston. The sum total of Mr. Jennings’ advice and counsel was to tell the child; "I hope you knew to use a condom." Over the next two years, until the student graduated, Mr. Jennings was aware of the ongoing relationship between the student and the adult, yet he took no action. I would note that Mr. Jennings has written about this, so there is no doubt as to his actions, or lack thereof.

I am not familiar with the laws of the state of Massachusetts, but I do know about laws pertaining to the rape or abuse of children in my state of Iowa. As outlined in Iowa Code section 232.69, there are categories of people who are mandatory reporters when they examine, attend, counsel, or treat a child in the scope of professional practice or in their employment responsibilities. Among the listed mandatory reporters are teachers and other employees of schools. In Iowa, Mr. Jennings would have been required by law to notify the appropriate authorities of this relationship, and take active steps to protect this student.

The failure to take the required actions in Iowa is a criminal act under Iowa Code, to wit: Iowa Code section 232.75 provides for civil and criminal sanctions for failing to report child abuse. Any person, official, agency, or institution required by this chapter to report a suspected case of child abuse who knowingly and willfully fails to do so is guilty of a simple misdemeanor. In addition, any person, official, agency, or institution required by Iowa Code section 232.69 to report a suspected case of child abuse who knowingly fails to do so, or who knowingly interferes with the making of such a report in violation of section 232.70, is civilly liable for damages.

The bottom line is that in Iowa Kevin Jennings would be admittedly liable for both criminal and civil actions for his failure to act on behalf of this student. I say admittedly because he has included this information in his own book. In his defense, he has stated that he was young, and could have handled this differently. I would ask if the state of Massachusetts has similar laws to my state, and do they inform teachers of their responsibilities as mandatory reporters? If so, did not Mr. Jennings violate the laws of Massachusetts? If not, why not? If Massachusetts does not have mandatory reporting laws, why are such laws not in place?

May I respectfully say that this appointment is beyond inappropriate, but is in direct conflict with the goals and stated mission of this position. Mr. Jennings has already shown that he does not have the best interests of our children at heart, as shown by his disregard for the safety and welfare of a student in his care. He should have the good grace to resign, and if he fails to do so, he should be fired. The safety of our children is too important to be entrusted to someone who so blatantly has failed to act in a responsible manner when presented with a real life situation.

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