School & District Management

Cleared of Eavesdropping Conviction, Ex-Superintendent Hopes for New Job

By Alan Richard — January 10, 2001 3 min read

The former superintendent of the 1,000-student Modoc Joint Unified School District in northern California knows his story seems bizarre. He was convicted in 1999 of placing a hidden camera inside a principal’s office.

Now, after more than a year confined to rural Modoc County awaiting the outcome of his appeal, Mr. Drennan is a free man.

A state appeals court overturned his conviction. The Nov. 27 ruling by the 3rd District Court of Appeal in Sacramento said the superintendent never broke the law, and shouldn’t ever have stood trial.

The ruling finally provided Mr. Drennan and his family some relief. But it won’t give him his old life back, he says.

Mr. Drennan, who is 46, says his two teenage children were ridiculed at school. One graduated early; the other is finishing studies at home.

He was fired from his job, after working as a teacher, assistant principal, and district administrator in the Modoc County schools.

Worse than his firing, he was labeled by some in town as a man who, for some reason, would spy on a principal’s office by hidden camera.

Information Leaks

Mr. Drennan was paid an annual salary of $78,000 and was the superintendent for more than four years.

He said in a recent interview that he had asked the district’s maintenance supervisor in December 1998 to install a camera that took pictures every three seconds of the principal’s desk, a file cabinet, and other places in the principal’s office where someone might look for private documents. No sound was recorded.

Mr. Drennan said he believed that someone was sneaking into office files when no one else was around, since confidential information about some district employees had somehow circulated publicly. When no intruder was discovered, the camera was disconnected in March 1999.

A local prosecutor, who now says he should have charged Mr. Drennan with nothing more than a misdemeanor, said in a previous interview with Education Week that the superintendent was looking for “dirt” on the principal. He filed charges in May 1999 after remains of the camera—disguised as a smoke detector— were found in the principal’s office.

Mr. Drennan was suspended from his job and arrested. In September of that year, he was convicted by a jury of felony eavesdropping, sentenced to 10 days in jail, and fined more than $7,000.

The superintendent appealed the decision; in the meantime, he could leave the county only with permission. His jail sentence was put on hold pending the appeal, but he hasn’t worked for a year.

Installing the camera, Mr. Drennan said, was a mistake, but not a violation of the law. No motive besides solving a possible crime prompted the installation of the camera, he said, which was done with the knowledge of school board members and the district’s lawyer.

He asserted that political motives fueled the charges, but would not elaborate. “You develop people that would rather see you gone than there. This became an issue my enemies could pounce on,” he maintained.

Mr. Drennan’s next move is uncertain, but he wants badly to be a school administrator again, lesson learned, his old life left behind.

“When you’re labeled as a felon, it’s tough to find work in a school,” he said, expressing relief that his record will no longer brand him a criminal. “This was a blip and not a fatal error, I hope. I’m a straight shooter. I don’t play politics.”

Cindy Culp, who until last month was a school board member in Modoc County, said she wrote a letter of recommendation for Mr. Drennan.

“He was a good superintendent,” she said, declining further comment because a civil case is pending between the district and the former principal in whose office the camera was installed. She said the principal’s contract was not renewed.

Mr. Drennan, for his part, just hopes the latest ruling will enable him to restart his career as an educator.

“This is what I really enjoy doing and love,” he said. “Now, we just go out and start applying for jobs.”

Related Tags:

A version of this article appeared in the January 10, 2001 edition of Education Week as Cleared of Eavesdropping Conviction, Ex-Superintendent Hopes for New Job

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
Equity, Care and Connection: New SEL Tools and Practices to Support Students and Adults
As school districts plan to welcome students back into buildings for the upcoming school year, this is the perfect time to take a hard look at both our practices and our systems to build a
Content provided by Panorama Education
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Classroom Technology Webinar
Here to Stay – Pandemic Lessons for EdTech in Future Development
What technology is needed in a post pandemic district? Learn how changes in education will impact development of new technologies.
Content provided by AWS
School & District Management Live Online Discussion A Seat at the Table: Strategies & Tips for Complex Decision-Making
Schools are working through the most disruptive period in the history of modern education, facing a pandemic, economic problems, social justice issues, and rapid technological change all at once. But even after the pandemic ends,

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School & District Management Cash for Shots? Districts Take New Tacks to Boost Teacher Vaccinations
In order to get more school staff vaccinated, some district leaders are tempting them with raffles, jeans passes, and cash.
8 min read
Illustration of syringe tied to stick
Getty
School & District Management National Teachers' Union President: Schools Must Reopen 5 Days a Week This Fall
American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten wants five days a week of in-person school next fall.
4 min read
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, talks during a news conference in front of the Richard R. Green High School of Teaching on Sept. 8, 2020.
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, talks during a news conference in front of the Richard R. Green High School of Teaching on Sept. 8, 2020.
Mark Lennihan/AP
School & District Management Principals and Stress: Strategies for Coping in Difficult Times
Running schools in the pandemic has strained leaders in unprecedented ways. Principals share their ideas for how to manage the stress.
6 min read
Illustration of calm woman working at desk
Getty
School & District Management Wanted: Superintendents to Lead Districts Through the End of a Pandemic
Former superintendents say there are signs when it's time to move on. Their replacements are more likely to be greenhorns, experts say.
4 min read
Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent Austin Beutner speaks at a news conference at the school district headquarters in Los Angeles on March 13, 2020. Beutner will step down as superintendent after his contract ends in June, he announced Wednesday, April 21, 2021.
Austin Beutner, the superintendent of Los Angeles Unified, will step down after his contract ends in June.
Damian Dovarganes/AP