A superintendent in eastern Iowa is keeping his job, despite letting a convicted sex offender volunteer in his district. The administrator had previously offered to resign over the issue that some say has divided the school community.
At a community meeting in Wellman Monday, all but one Mid-Prairie School Board member voted to renew Superintendent Mark Schneider's contract for the 2018-2019 school year.
Sole dissenter Jim Hussey said he wanted to acknowledge the trauma some community members have experienced.
"There need to be consequences for everybody. So many people across the community and even across this state lost sleep over this. And we need to acknowledge that and make sure it doesn't happen again," Hussey said.
Schneider will keep his job, despite the fact he let convicted sex offender Trent Yoder volunteer in the district, supervising field trips, helping build theater sets and overseeing a spelling club. In 1998, the then-teacher was convicted of exploitation of a minor for secretly filming a student changing clothes in a bathroom in a western Iowa school. Yoder has since served his time, and was removed form the state's sex offender registry in 2008.
More than 200 people came to the Mid-Prairie High School gym Monday to weigh in on the issue, and Schneider's future in the district. A group of women who say they were targeted by Yoder as students in Anita, Iowa traveled from throughout the state to share their stories.
Megan Schulte is now a teacher in the Williamsburg Community School District, but as a student she said Yoder was her volleyball coach.
"We were all fooled by the Christian man that he appeared to be. Many of you have spoken about how he is a remorseful man," Schulte said. "I urge the Mid-Prairie District and community to not be fooled by this man and other sex offenders."
Schneider initially denied Yoder's volunteer application after running a background check. But after receiving letters of support from community leaders, Schneider reversed his decision, with the caveat Yoder not be left alone with children. He did not alert parents of Yoder's record.
After his status was made public, Yoder said he wouldn't volunteer for the rest of the school year. A public statement from Yoder can be read here.
Lanney Monson is a marriage and family therapist who works with survivors of sexual assault as well as offenders. He also has grandchildren in the district. Based on his professional experience, Monson compared sexual offenders to those battling addictions.
"When you're an alcoholic, and someone kind of brought this point up, you don't go into a bar," he said. "To hear that this guy was seeking out and volunteering with children, I thought, 'something wrong here'."
What complicates this issue for some parents is their passion for Mid-Prairie Schools and their respect for and trust in its superintendent. Multiple parents said they purposefully moved into the area in order to enroll their children in the district's schools.
Parent Tiffany Brenneman helped gather 473 petitions in support of the superintendent.
“I’m glad that the board feels the same as the rest of the outstanding people who signed that petition. I feel like we were a silent majority,” Brenneman said.
For some, Schneider's decision shouldn't put an end to what they see as an otherwise stellar career. Board members pointed out school administrators don't set policy, they simply implement what the board adopts.
Other parents said existing policies are too lax and decisions of this gravity should not rest with a single individual. Parent Ashley Corey said the potential risks are too great.
“The fact that we are all here tonight is because the administration failed to do their due diligence in investigating the true scope of Trent Yoder’s criminal past," Corey said. "I pray that no victims come out of Mid-Prairie.”
Schneider released a written statement following the meeting, thanking the board for their support.
I want to thank the Mid-Prairie School Board for offering me a contract for the 2018-19 school year.
I look forward to working with school board members and the Community Volunteer Policy Committee to create revised policies and procedures for governing parent and community volunteer involvement in our schools.
The Mid-Prairie School District has a long history of national and state recognitions for academic excellence. I am proud of the school board members, school staff members, parents and community members who worked together to make these honors happen. A future goal will be to create these same recognitions for social and emotional student learning. Mid-Prairie can become a role model for conflict resolution and trauma informed care for our students suffering traumatic events but it will take the same cooperative and collaborative efforts by everyone.
The district is organizing a community advisory board to draft new volunteer policies.
Clarification: A previous version of this story implied Yoder was convicted of sexual offenses against multiple students. While multiple people have accused Yoder of sexual misconduct, he was only convicted of one charge in the case of one student.