WELLMAN — The superintendent who allowed a convicted sex offender to volunteer in classrooms will keep his job at the Mid-Prairie Community School District and will receive a 1 percent pay raise next school year, the Mid-Prairie school board decided this week.
After 90 minutes of comments from the public on Monday evening — most of them in support of Superintendent Mark Schneider — the board voted 6-1 to extend Schneider’s contract, with board member Jim Hussey opposed.
Applause followed the board’s decision.
Schneider thanked the board and said in a statement he looks forward to creating “revised policies and procedures for governing parent and community volunteer involvement in our schools.”
Schneider asked the board to review his employment during a volatile special board meeting April 27, where the volunteer status of Trent Yoder, 47, was discussed.
Yoder, a former teacher, pleaded guilty in 1998 to filming a teenage girl in an Anita school bathroom and was convicted of sexual exploitation of a minor.
He is now a parent in the Mid-Prairie district and, despite a background check that revealed his felony record and 10 years on the sex offender registry, Schneider allowed him to volunteer in the schools beginning in 2015.
Schneider initially denied the request. But then, he said at the April meeting, “He was candid and open about his conviction and expressed remorse. He asked if I would reconsider my decision so he could be involved in his sons’ education.”
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Schneider received letters in support of Yoder’s volunteering, including ones from a pastor, a retired teacher, a University of Iowa professor and a District Court judge, who commented on Yoder’s “spotless” record over the past 17 years.
Schneider allowed Yoder to volunteer in the district — which includes Wellman, Kalona and West Chester in Washington County — so long as he was not alone with children.
Yoder, who addressed the public and the board at the April meeting, said he would stop volunteering for the remainder of the school year.
On Monday, Mid-Prairie board members moved forward with creation of a Volunteer Community Committee, which is expected to provide a policy recommendation “for this specific situation,” as well as other volunteer issues.
Those speaking in support of Schneider on Monday evening offered their full support of him and praised his leadership.
But others said they disagreed with Schneider’s decision to allow Yoder to volunteer and encouraged policy changes that would remove such decisions from the superintendent.
Among those critical of Schneider were six women who said they represented Yoder’s victim in the Anita school district in western Iowa.
They said they believed Schneider had not fully investigated Yoder’s actions. They also maintained Yoder’s activities were not fully investigated at the time of his arrest and that his violations exceeded the single charge.
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They also said they believed Yoder had manipulated the Mid-Prairie situation to bring himself into contact with children.
Perhaps the most scathing comments came from Hussey, the board member who voted against extending Schneider’s contract.
“I do not believe Trent Yoder’s explanation of what happened 20 years ago,” he said. “I believe the women. I believe the girls.”
He also said there were larger issues of trust and responsibility that could not be ignored.
“The pain of what has happened was not worth it,” he said.
School board member George Schafer summarized the Yoder situation.
“If he needs to be watched, that’s a problem,” he said. “If the state doesn’t want him in the classroom, why would we?”
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