A southeast Iowa superintendent is standing by his decision to let a convicted sex offender volunteer in his district. Amid pushback from parents and former students, the issue could cost the official his job.
Trent Yoder has been volunteering with Mid-Prairie Schools since 2015, in part to be more involved in the education of his two children, who are students in the district. He has also helped build theatre sets and led a spelling club. That's despite the fact Yoder was convicted of sexual exploitation of a child in 1998, for filming a high school student changing clothes in western Iowa. He was listed on the state’s sex offender registry until 2008.
In a letter to parents, Mid-Prairie Schools Superintendent Mark Schneider said he initially rejected Yoder's request to volunteer in the district, after his past conviction surfaced in a background check. But Yoder appealed the decision, supplying letters of support from his pastor, a retired Mid-Prairie Elementary School teacher, and an Iowa district judge who reportedly wrote, “I believe Trent’s past performance is far more relevant to the issues of safety and liability than is a seventeen year old criminal conviction.”
Based on these references and what Schneider describes as "Yoder's remorseful and open manner", the superintendent allowed the 47 year old to volunteer in the district, with the understanding he would be supervised by another adult at all times. Amid community pushback, Yoder has said he won't volunteer for the rest of the school year, which ends May 30.
In an open letter, Schneider offered his sympathies to victims of sexual exploitation, a fate he said "no child should ever suffer". But he also said his own grandchildren attend Mid-Prairie schools and that he "would never knowingly put my grandchildren or anyone else’s children or grandchildren in harm’s way."
Schneider urged parents to consider a person's ability to learn from past mistakes. But his past decision could lose him his job. Schneider has said he'll resign if he doesn't get the school board's support.
"If the result is a vote of 'no confidence,' I will immediately submit my resignation effective June 30, 2018. While I am not quite ready for retirement, I will leave with no hard feelings looking forward to having more time to properly spoil my grandchildren," Schneider said at a recent school board meeting.
The board is scheduled to take a vote on May 14.