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Arrest of principal shocks students

Most at El Modena High are stunned by lewd conduct charges against respected administrator, who was arrested in a park restroom last year.

January 31, 2007|Mai Tran | Times Staff Writer

On the day their principal was charged with lewd conduct, students at El Modena High School were wondering how the man they respected ended up being arrested during a sting operation at a Fullerton park.

Brent Bailey, 56, who is married and has a grown son, was arrested Dec. 27 in a public restroom near Brea Dam Park. Police monitor the area regularly because it's known as a meeting place for public sexual activity.

As principal of the 2,200 students at El Modena High in Orange for 1 1/2 years, Bailey had a reputation for strictness. Boys weren't allowed to wear baggy pants, and girls were prohibited from wearing midriff tops. Cellphones weren't allowed, and he banned suggestive freak dancing. He was often seen picking up trash, students said.

"I thought it was a rumor, because he's cool," said senior Jared Lopez, 17, of Orange. "He made the school look good, and everyone respected him."

Acting Principal Janet Hayes announced over the intercom Monday that Bailey no longer headed the campus. She did not provide details.

"I asked the teachers, and they don't want to talk about it," Lopez said.

So Lopez and other students rushed home after school and logged on to their computers to find out what happened. On Tuesday, the news was the talk of the campus.

"It's shocking," said student Annie Meneses. "He's supposed to set a good example to kids, so this is kind of weird."

Bailey made his first court appearance at North Justice Center in Fullerton for the misdemeanor charge. The arraignment was postponed until Feb. 20. If convicted, he faces as much as six months in jail and a $5,000 fine.

Parents said they were upset that it took about a month before Bailey was removed from his post.

"It's shocking that our teachers and principals are doing things like that and they're working with our students," said Michelle Morales, who has a 15-year-old daughter at El Modena. "That's disappointing that our board waited that long to keep him around our kids."

School officials said they placed Bailey on leave Thursday, the same day Fullerton police notified them of the arrest.

Police Sgt. Linda King said the misdemeanor charge did not fall among more serious crimes that require the department to notify the school. She said the district attorney's office urged the department to notify school officials because of guidelines the district must follow under the state Education Code.

"We didn't know we had to call under the Education Code. The Education Code is something the Police Department doesn't deal with particularly," King said. "If he was a truck driver or mechanic, we wouldn't have ever called an employer."

If convicted, Bailey would not be required to register as a sex offender because the alleged crime is a misdemeanor, King said.

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mai.tran@latimes.com

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