After a rash of suicides involving students bullied over their sexual orientation, U.S. Education Department officials have been relatively silent, including the controversial "safe schools" chief appointed to deal with this very issue, FOXNews.com reported Tuesday.
At least five students have taken their own lives since early September -- family and friends said most of them were bullied for being or appearing to be gay.
The U.S. Department of Education on Tuesday announced millions of dollars in grant money aimed at improving school safety. But Kevin Jennings, the head of the Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools, said in an interview that the money was not in response to the suicides -- California was the only grant recipient where one of the suicides occurred.
Though the Education Department has put extra focus on school bullying -- with the grant program and an anti-bullying summit in August -- Washington has not rushed to address the latest incidents as gay rights groups have clamored for action.
Jennings' first appearance since the string of suicides started was last Friday at a legislative breakfast in New York City. The same day, Education Secretary Arne Duncan released a two-paragraph written statement condemning the harassment that led to the tragedies.
"This is a moment where every one of us -- parents, teachers, students, elected officials, and all people of conscience -- needs to stand up and speak out against intolerance in all its forms," Duncan said. "No more. This must stop."
But online outlets that focus on gay issues have accused the administration of not speaking out.
San Francisco-based gay rights advocate and blogger Michael Petrelis repeatedly has urged top officials, including President Barack Obama, to do more to address the suicides. He said in an email to FOXNews.com that the administration is giving "the silent treatment" to the issue.
"Obama's silence harms all kids bullied -- gay, straight, or questioning," Petrelis said, adding that Jennings needs to demonstrate "regular public engagement."
"We cannot overlook the almost-invisible and nearly-mute Kevin Jennings," he said. "A good time for him to break his silence would be now, and to do so on the topic of how federal dollars will be used to address the bullying epidemic."
Read more: http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2010/10/05/education-officials-silent-rash-teen-suicides/