Education

Tensions flare after Mid-Prairie volunteer's sexual exploitation record comes to light

Superintendent calls for a vote of confidence, pledges to resign if it fails

WELLMAN — Days after learning a convicted sex offender had been allowed to volunteer in some of their children’s schools, dozens of parents sat through about 45 minutes of a special Mid-Prairie school board meeting Saturday before a few boiled over.

The morning meeting included no opportunity for the public to address the board, infuriating parents in attendance such as Skyler Cooper, a Mid-Prairie Community School District alum and parent.

“You guys want us to trust you, but you guys can’t trust us to talk?” Cooper asked during the meeting, as Board President Jeremy Pickard spoke over her, eventually asking her to be escorted out. “I’m just saying, you’re responsible for my child — I’ll leave. You guys held me responsible (as a student) for my actions everyday, everyday. And now you’re jeopardizing our children and don’t trust us to talk? That is wrong.”

“He does deserve a second chance as a person. You do — and you have that chance with your own children...You don't get it with my child. There are no second chances with other people's children.”

- Skyler Cooper, parent of a Mid-Prairie student


Cooper and other parents said Saturday they are angry and disappointed in school administrators for allowing Trent Yoder to volunteer with students.

The former teacher pleaded guilty in 1998 to filming a girl in an Anita elementary school bathroom and was convicted of sexual exploitation of a minor.

The Mid-Prairie school board did allow Yoder to address the board and some 50 community members Saturday. He announced he will not volunteer at schools for the remainder of the school year, which ends in a few weeks.

Superintendent Mark Schneider allowed Yoder to volunteer in the district despite his felony record, which appeared on a background check Schneider said he requested in 2014.

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The superintendent initially denied Yoder’s request to volunteer, but after receiving letters of recommendation for Yoder and reviewing his case, Schneider decided in 2015 to allow the now 47-year-old father to volunteer in schools as long as he was not alone with children.

Still, many parents remained deeply unsettled by the district’s decision, which was first reported by The Des Moines Register.

“He does deserve a second chance as a person. You do — and you have that chance with your own children,” said Cooper, who has a son in preschool. “You don’t get it with my child. There are no second chances with other people’s children.”

Yoder said he abided the rule that he never be alone with children in Mid-Prairie schools, in order to help parents and children feel safe and to “keep myself and my family safe from any false allegations.”

“I’ve gone 20 years without incident, and I know I’ve been extremely fortunate to have so many people along the way support me. Mid-Prairie has been no different. I have tried only to do things that would help the community,” Yoder said, beginning to cry. “So I want to tell you that because I am so grateful for the way I have been treated here, and because I don’t want Mid-Prairie to be seen in a negative light, I will right now formally announce that I will not volunteer at any Mid-Prairie events for the remainder of the year.”

Yoder said he wants to allow the board ample time to revisit policies. Later in the meeting, some board members stressed that Yoder should not return as a volunteer without expressed permission.

The school board did not take any formal actions Saturday, but agreed to examine new policies and procedures around school volunteers and consider appointing a committee to review policies.

They intend to have new policies in place by the start of next school year.

“It’s situations like this that expose some holes in the procedures we have,” Board President Pickard said. “That can be a policy or procedure that has functioned well for a number of years, if not decades.”

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Board member Jim Hussey noted that many people outside of the district will be impacted by Mid-Prairie’s choices moving forward, including the former students of Yoder’s who reached out to the Mid-Prairie board with their concerns.

“I want to make sure everyone understands that there’s a larger group of shareholders out here who deserve our attention and our absolute care,” Hussey said. “It’s because of their bravery and their willingness to stick their own necks on the line, 20 years after what happened, that we are here today and we can never forget that.

There are other people who may be in a situation where something bad is happening to them, and they’re looking to us,” he added. “And (they’re) saying, ‘What is going to happen to those people who do bad things to kids?’”

After Cooper’s outburst in the meeting, a number of other parents also chastised the board for not allowing the public to speak.

Near the end of the meeting, Schneider announced he will ask the board for a vote of confidence at a May 14 meeting. Should it fail, he said — to some applause — he will resign at the end of the school year.

As people filed out of the meeting, Karissa Huffman paused in her car to cry outside Mid-Prairie High School. She said she and her boyfriend have four children in the district, one of whom participated in a spelling club run by Yoder.

“I’m so disappointed,” the mother said. “Mr. Schneider was my principal in elementary school, I graduated with his daughter, I worked with his son. I can’t believe he would allow something like that. … I just can’t believe that something like this happened, and nobody knew about it.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8330; molly.duffy@thegazette.com

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