For all this talk about safe schools czar Kevin Jennings remaining completely off the grid during the rash of gay bullycides, it’s not like the GLSEN founder is totally quiet. After popping up at a small gathering in New York, he showed his face in Portland, Oregon to give a PowerPoint presentation.
Jennings — officially the assistant deputy secretary for the U.S. Department of Education and head of the Safe and Drug-Free Schools Office — was speaking Monday at an event for the National Association for Pupil Transportation, an umbrella group for school bus drivers. They’re an important group to talk to, as bus drivers are often the witnesses to — and sometimes, horrifically, the perpetrators of — harassment aimed at LGBT youth. “Anyone who doesn’t get that the bus is an extension of the school has never been on one, or in a school for that matter,” says Jennings. “Not only do bus drivers care, they care more than others. But they’re not being equipped with training or being included in our efforts.” (The Oregonian reports that of the 100 or so attendees, many left in tears after Jennings’ speech. He ended the presentation with slides of seven kids bullied to death.)
For all the crap we’ve given Jennings, I do applaud him reaching out to an oft-ignored group of people in kids’ lives: bus drivers. But flying out to Portland to address a group of 100 people isn’t enough. Aside from Obama’s It Gets Better video, we’ve seen little from the White House’s team to show they are going to confront this issue head on. (Though I’d be remiss without mentioning this case.) Jennings might be popping in to various locations — and that’s great, really, he should — but I’m still waiting to hear what the nation’s safe schools czar plans on doing to install a comprehensive nationwide anti-bullying project. The federal government’s biggest motivator to get local districts to pay attention is to threaten federal funds, something New Jersey’s Sen. Frank Lautenberg is working on in D.C.. Jennings & Co. should get behind it.