Washington Evening Journal

Fairfield Ledger   Mt. Pleasant News
Neighbors Growing Together | Aug 21, 2018

Board OKs contract

After controversy, board expresses confidence in superintendent by renewing his contract
May 15, 2018
The Mid-Prairie school board voted 6-1 to approve a 2018-2019 contract for Superintendent Mark Schneider Monday. Many of those attending the meeting, relocated to the school gym, responded to the decision with applause.

By John Butters, The JOURNAL


After removing a confidence/no confidence voting item from Monday’s agenda, the Mid-Prairie school board voted 6-1 to approve a 2018-2019 contract for Superintendent Mark Schneider Monday.

The board met in the gym to accommodate a large crowd who had gathered to observe the board’s reaction to criticism of Schneider’s decision to allow Trent Yoder, a convicted sex offender, to assist with a spelling club.

Schneider, well-regarded within the community, had asked for the confidence/no confidence vote to be placed on the agenda, following criticism from some members of the district at a special board meeting called on April 28 to review policies and procedures regarding the approval of volunteers.

In a statement issued April 27, Schneider detailed his vetting of Yoder’s suitability to assist with the club and presented documentation from community members and legal authorities affirming the success of Yoder’s rehabilitation.

He also outlined the restrictions he placed on Yoder’s contact with Mid-Prairie students.

Yoder was removed from the sexual offenders registry in 2008 for a 1998 conviction of sexual exploitation of a child at the Anita School District. Yoder, a school employee, was found filming a volleyball player trying on a sports bra. His teaching license was permanently revoked.

Board members were unaware of Yoder’s conviction and were blindsided by a story in the Des Moines Register in which one of Yoder’s victims, still living in Anita, questioned the right of Yoder to work with children at Mid-Prairie.

Board President Jeremy Pickard said he became aware of the issue on March 5.

Now aware of Yoder’s history, the board is acting to set new guidelines for the approval of volunteer assistance for the clubs and organizations that surround, and support, most school systems. The board authorized the formation of a community committee for the task. Of primary concern to the board and community is the inclusion of the board in the vetting process of district volunteers.

Both Schneider and the board have made it clear that the spelling club was not sponsored or sanctioned by the district, but it did meet on school property at Kalona West Elementary and that Schneider had the authority to approve volunteers.

Prior to the vote on Schneider’s contract, the board had set aside 90 minutes for public comment on the issue.

Expressions of support for Schneider at Monday’s meeting were overwhelming; loud applause followed the removal of the no confidence vote.

Those speaking in support of Schneider gave assurances of their full support and praised his leadership of the district.

But many also said they disagreed with his decision to allow Yoder to volunteer and encouraged policy changes that would remove the decision from the superintendent’s office.

Among those critical of Schneider were six women representing Yoder’s victims from the Anita School District. They criticized Schneider’s decision, saying he had not fully investigated Yoder’s actions or he would not have allowed Yoder to volunteer for the spelling club.

They also maintain that Yoder’s activities were not fully investigated at the time of his arrest and that his violations exceeded the single charge. They claimed there were more victims than reported.

They said the believed Yoder had manipulated the situation to place himself back into contact with children.

Perhaps the most scathing comments came from Jim Hussey, the lone vote against approving Schneider’s contract, who expounded on the duties of the school board and the seriousness of the charges.

He further expressed his own doubts of the completeness of Yoder’s investigation.

“I do not believe Trent Yoder’s explanation of what happened 20 years ago. I believe the women. I believe the girls,” he said.

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, who voted to approve Schneider’s contract, neatly summarized the issue in regard to Yoder.

“If he needs to be watched, that’s a problem. If the state doesn’t want him in the classroom, why would we?” he said.

Following the meeting Pickard spoke of the board’s next challenge.

“I’m really looking forward to adopting the policies and procedures that will continue to do what we do best. That is making the Mid-Prairie School District the best district in Iowa,” he said.

Later that evening, Schneider issued a public statement.

“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,” he said.
















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