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Kevin Jennings: A Champion for Bullying Prevention in the Department of Education

Susan Gorin, CAE, Executive Director, National Association of School Psychologists

The commitment to keeping America’s schoolchildren and youth safe gained a significant boost in the appointment of Kevin Jennings as Assistant Deputy Secretary and Director of the Department of Education’s Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools (OSDFS). School safety addresses a spectrum of risks to student well-being and ranges from the teaching of prosocial behaviors and substance abuse education to prevention of and effective response to a major crisis.

Looming large on the risk spectrum, though, is the chronic and cruel behavior of bullying, which plagues many of America’s schools and undermines the learning and well-being of thousands of children and youth on a daily basis. For example, according to the Indicators of School Crime and Safety: 2008, in 2007 79% of students aged 12-18 reported being bullied inside school during the school year. Indeed, uncontrolled bullying and harassment contribute significantly to some of education’s biggest challenges, including poor student attendance, low academic achievement, mental health and behavior problems, increased risk behaviors, and dropping out. In extreme cases, the misery of chronic bullying leads victims to bring weapons to school for self-protection or to consider serious harm to themselves or others. As school psychologists, we know that failing to address the impact of bullying on individual students and overall school climate creates barriers to learning that make effective teaching impossible for even the most skilled teachers.

Kevin Jennings has made bullying prevention and awareness of the importance of positive school climates for learning the centerpieces of his leadership at OSDFS. He is committed to ensuring the day-in, day-out safety of all students no matter their race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability, or religion. An essential part of this effort is to shine a light on the populations most at-risk for being bullied and to identify the necessary services to support them within the context of an overall school-wide antibullying agenda.

Kevin brings to this responsibility an in-depth knowledge of the issues facing students and the challenges facing educators in providing the appropriate services and safeguards. He is an outstanding collaborator who is already reaching out to educators and safety experts at the state and local levels—where real safety takes place. Perhaps most important, though, Kevin is an exceptional advocate who understands how to fight for the rights of all children to be safe, valued, and respected so that they can achieve their best in school and life.

Those of us at the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) who have worked with Kevin during his tenure at the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) are delighted to have such an effective partner in the commitment to end bullying and promote safe, healthy learning environments for all students.

For further information on bullying prevention, school safety, and school psychologists, visit www.nasponline.org or contact NASP Director of Marketing and Communications Kathy Cowan at kcowan@naspweb.org or NASP Director of Public Policy Stacy Skalski at sskalski@naspweb.org or by phone 301-657-0270.

Additional Statements of Support

American Counseling Association Supports Kevin Jennings, A Champion for All Children

AFT Letter of Support for Kevin Jennings

Council for Exceptional Children

Learning First Alliance

National Alliance of Pupil Service Organizations

National Association of Secondary School Principals

National Education Association

People for the American Way

School Social Work Association of America