EDITOR'S NOTE: Since this story was originally published, the former student referred to as "Brewster" has stepped forward to reveal that he was 16 years old, not 15, at the time of the incident described in this report.
President Obama's "safe schools czar," under fire from critics who say he's unfit for his job, acknowledged Wednesday that he "should have handled [the] situation differently" years ago when he was a schoolteacher and didn't report that a 15-year-old boy told him that he was having sex with an older man.
Kevin Jennings, the founder of the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network, was teaching high school in Concord, Mass., in 1988 when the boy, a sophomore, confessed an involvement with a man he had met in a bus station bathroom in Boston. Jennings has written that he told the boy, "I hope you knew to use a condom."
In a statement issued Wednesday, Jennings said: "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."
Jennings, director of the Office of Safe and Drug Free Schools, said he believes his office can now help keep other new teachers from making the same mistake.
"Teachers back then had little training or guidance about this kind of thing," Jennings said. "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."
His statement came amid new discoveries about his descriptions of his interaction with the gay high school student, whom he called "Brewster" in his 1994 book, "One Teacher in 10," and in a speech he gave in 2000.
In his 2007 autobiography, "Mama's Boy, Preacher's Son: A Memoir," Jennings writes nearly the same story, but he calls the student "Robertson."
On page 162, Jennings writes: "Robertson soon told me the tale, about someone he'd met in Boston, how he thought he loved him, how heartbroken he was when his calls never got returned..."
On page 169, he continues: "As the fall wore on, Robertson continued to drop by my office to chat, often updating me on his latest 'adventures.' Sometimes these startled me, and I began to underline the importance of safe sex to him. One day he snapped back, 'Why should I use a condom? My life isn't worth saving anyway.'"
Jennings was appointed to his job because of his longtime record of working to end bullying and discrimination in schools. But his critics say he is not qualified for the job, saying he has advocated promoting homosexuality in schools, written about his past drug abuse and expressed contempt for religion.
Peter Sprigg of the Family Research Council says Jennings' past remarks about his encounter with the teenage boy call into question the sincerity of his new statement.
"It's not as though, 'Oh, this was a youthful mistake I made as a brand-new teacher, but now that I'm an adult I realize that I handled it wrong.' Because he has told this story as recently as last year, in another book, and has not expressed any regret until now. So that indicates to me that this is more out of political necessity than it is about genuine remorse," Sprigg told FOX News.
Department of Education spokesman Justin Hamilton declined to comment on Jennings' statements about the incident, since it took place in 1988.
But Obama's Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, said Wednesday he is "honored" to work with Jennings and described him as "uniquely qualified for his job."
"Kevin Jennings has dedicated his professional career to promoting school safety," Duncan said. "He is uniquely qualified for his job and I am honored to have him on our team.
Jennings also released a statement on his past writings on drug use.
"I have written about the factors that have led me to use drugs as a teen. This experience qualifies me to help students and teachers who are confronting these issues today."
On page 103 of the same book, discussing his high school years in Hawaii in the early 1980s, Jennings wrote:
"I got stoned more often and went out to the beach at Bellows, overlooking Honolulu Harbor and the lights of the city, to drink with my buddies on Friday and Saturday nights, spending hours watching the planes take off and land at the airport, which is actually quite fascinating when you are drunk and stoned."
Sprigg said he would like to see a more specific statement from Jennings.
"We still haven't heard a clear and explicit statement from him that no one of any age should use illegal drugs, including marijuana. That would seem to be a prerequisite for the position he is in," he said.
He also said Jennings' appointment reflects poorly on the vetting procedures of the Obama administration.
"I suspect that the vetting procedure for Jennings was fairly superficial... This controversy about the possible statutory rape was raised in 2004 when he received an award from the NEA. So it's not like it's been a secret. So I think it shows yet another failure of the Obama administration's vetting process."