An Education Department official in the Obama administration has defended remarks he made as a teacher to a student 21 years ago.

Kevin Jennings, who is the head of the department’s Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools, was speaking at a conference around 1990 when he recalled the incident.

As a 24-year-old teacher in Massachusetts, a 15-year-old student had come to him for advice about a sexual relationship with an older man.

Jennings said he told the boy: “My best friend had just died of AIDS the week before. You know, I hope you knew to use a condom.”

He has been condemned by religious and conservative groups for not reporting the relationship to authorities or the boy’s parents.

Footage of the comments was posted on the web recently by conservative psychology professor Warren Throckmorton.

Jennings has been criticised for his inaction before, with another teacher attacking the National Education Association in 2004 for giving him a human rights award.

In a statement released yesterday, he said: “Twenty-one years later, I can see how I should have handled the situation differently.

“I should have asked for more information and consulted medical or legal authorities,” he said.

“Teachers back then had little training and guidance about this kind of thing. 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.”

Jennings is a gay rights activist. He is the founder and former executive director of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, which is committed to preventing harassment and discrimination based on sexual orientation.