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I have spent several sleepless nights pondering this very unfortunate situation that former students and parents from Anita Elementary School are having to relive; that MP parents are worried about; that the MP School Board must deal with; and that is subjecting the entire MP District, Superintendent Mark Schneider’s family, and volunteer Trent Yoder’s family to embarrassment and humiliation. I don’t have any answers, but I do have some thoughts to “add to the pot” that might shed some different light for community members and help the school board discern the best route going forward.
My husband, Gary, and I taught and coached at Mid-Prairie for 63 combined years. Gary has continued to volunteer for track since his retirement 12 years ago. Until this year I continued to substitute teach and still give private music lessons and accompany.
We had Trent Yoder as a student back in the 1980s. We have known Mark Schneider all the way through his career from student teacher under Marlene Gaston, to teacher at Washington Township, to principal at Wellman and Washington Township, to superintendent.
During retirement, we were both on a committee at our church (Christ the King Lutheran, Iowa City) to develop a Child and Dependent Adult Safety Policy that was approved by a lawyer and accepted by CTK’s insurance company. We are also doting grandparents of five precious granddaughters, ages 3-17.
Trent Yoder was always a positive, polite, kind, smart, enthusiastic student. He held doors open for people, said “please” and “thank you”, and worked well in groups in JH, which is not always the norm with that age group. In HS, he dated the daughter of some friends of ours so we got to know him outside of school, too. He carried his dishes to the sink, offered to help with household chores, and “played fair” in games. He got along well with adults and kids of every age. We were all happy when he decided to become a teacher. We thought he would relate well to children and be an effective, inspiring educator. We were, of course, very shocked, saddened and disappointed to learn of Trent’s inappropriate filming of a child in Anita. Our trust and confidence in him were violated, and we were skeptical and concerned when he moved back to Kalona. We heard no more about him for a long time until a few years ago, when he started working with the spelling kids. I got to know his son, Sam, and a few of the other spellers during my substituting. I saw the pride and esteem they felt about themselves when they did well. Trent was making a positive difference in those kids’ lives. I’ve also gone to several plays and musicals and seen his awesome sets and backdrops. Trent was making a positive contribution to the theater dept.
Mark Schneider is the patriarch of the “MP Family.” As an educator, he has “grown up” in this district from student teacher to superintendent. He loves the families he serves, as a father loves his own family. He is all about what is best for the kids. That’s why he rides the buses from time to time, eats hot lunch with the kids, visits every classroom every year, attends almost every after school activity, believes in a healthy balance between academics/arts/athletics/activities, is committed to up-to-date curriculum and technology, drives to the ends of the district himself on bad weather days instead of depending on someone else’s assessment of the roads, has given up pay raises for himself at least three time over the years when teachers got no raise and/or so the teachers could have a raise, can be seen at his office as early as 5 a.m. or as late as 11 p.m., always welcomes input from the community via committees/service clubs/coffee counter conversations, is a good budgeter, and keeps up on policies coming down the pike from the state. MP was ahead of the game on all day kindergarten/every day kindergarten/breakfast program/public preschool.
In developing the Child Safety Policy for our church, we had long discussions about previous sex offenders. The sex offender registry contains names for anyone with any offense for the rest of their lives – from an immature, hormone loaded 19-year-old who spontaneously violates his even more immature and hormone-loaded 14-year-old date on prom night, to someone who has been an intentional, methodical serial rapist over a 30-year period. We finally decided that, as Christians, we should consider giving some people a second chance; depending, of course on the nature of their initial offense and their age when committed, how long they have been “clean,” and recommendations from employers and others who can testify to their character. They would of course need to agree to certain stipulations, like never being alone with a child, and meeting with groups of children in open public places unless there is another adult in the room or car. The pastor does the initial screening for paid staff and volunteers. If the pastor comes across a candidate on the registry that he/she feels may deserve a second chance because of reasons mentioned above, the person’s name, history, and recommendations are confidentially reviewed by the church council and approved or denied by that group. The congregation is not involved – we trust the people we elect to carefully and mindfully act on our behalf.
As loving grandparents of girls, we, of course, want and expect anyone who spends time with them or is responsible for them to treat them with care, dignity and respect. The last thing we want is for them to be hurt or violated emotionally or physically by anyone. But we also want to model for our girls, as Christians and educators, that sometimes people deserve second chances. Who among us hasn’t been given a second chance by someone -- probably more than once?
I’m grateful that I don’t have to make this very difficult decision, and am also grateful that MP has a mindful, well-informed, compassionate school board that is up to the task. (I know good things about all of them, too, but this is long already enough!)
They will have all the facts at their disposal by May 14. All I have is what I have heard and read on the news, and what I know personally about Trent Yoder and Mark Schneider. That is all most of us have. We don’t know if Trent has committed another offense or if all this is based on something that happened 20 years ago that he has spent the past two decades trying to “make right.” We must trust and accept whatever decision the school board makes in the best interests of MP’s children on May 14.