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Kalona, Iowa
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Newspaper Article Archive of
The Kalona News

May 24, 2018 ‘Your children are the beneficiaries of our struggle’
Article Pages -- as published on the The Kalona News website.

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ARTICLE DESCRIPTION:

The following article was written by Nicky Bauerkemper of Anita, Iowa. She was one of Trent Yoder’s former students who spoke at the May 14 Mid-Prairie school board meeting.

On Monday, April 16, 2018, I made a terrible discovery of my own inquiry. Curiosity killed the cat, as they say, and this feline was slayed via a Google search.

When the emotional shock wore down from seeing current Mid-Prairie spelling stars standing next to my former spelling coach, Trent A. Yoder, I sent a message at 2:14 p.m. to three women who I had known since elementary school.

By way of weekly carpools to dance classes, we were close. By way of Trent Yoder and the in-school therapy sessions we received because of him, we were closer.

Truth be told, we hadn’t kept in very good contact since our high school days, but after I presented the disturbing news I had found earlier that day, we resolutely, unanimously agreed with Lindsay’s comment, coming in only six minutes after I sent the news article link: “Something needs to be said. We should try and stop it from happening [to] those girls.”

And so began our calls and emails to adult leaders in the Mid-Prairie community.

Katie immediately found Superintendent Mark Schneider’s professional contact information and gave him a call from overseas. My first communication, via email to Superintendent Schneider, was quite emotionally charged and told of my experiences with Yoder.

As a 10-year-old fifth-grader, I was occasionally pulled out for activities such as T.A.G. and the spelling bee. One of these times, Mr. Yoder, the sixth-grade teacher, retrieved me from the classroom for spelling practice, but said he first needed a favor for his niece.

He wanted to send her a volleyball team T-shirt, and since she and I were about the same size, would I try it on to make sure it fit? “Sure thing,” I thought to myself, nearly skipping with glee, “This is totally going to give me a leg-up on the teacher’s pet position next year.”

Doing a favor for a teacher is pure gold for most kids.

Instead of heading to the regular, multi-stall bathrooms for students, he led me down an off-limits hallway to a small, single-toilet bathroom that I, nor other students, had any idea existed. I tried on the T-shirt as fast as I could in there as he waited outside the door. Then, per usual, we went to practice spelling words in the resource room. I never mentioned the favor to anyone.

On May 15, 1998, a 15-year-old volleyball player was trying on bras in that bathroom, as Yoder had instructed, when she spotted a video camera - partly obscured, recording, and pointed right at her. With quick and excellent judgment, the camera was quickly in the safe hands of other school staff. He was caught.

After attempting – unsuccessfully - to confront her, he “went missing” for several unaccounted-for hours before reporting to police custody.

The list of other girls who individually tried on T-shirts or bras for him (for a variety of justifications) in this odd location goes on and on. At the time of this writing on May 15, 2018, the tally of women who have reported undressing in that private bathroom at the request of Mr. Yoder is 22, and three who were asked but refused or couldn’t for other reasons.

There is no physical evidence or admission of guilt for us - only our testimony and the possibility. No legal action was taken for our stories. No efforts were made to identify other victims. Some of us submitted statements, but Yoder switched to a guilty plea before it went to trial. Though many of us were ready and willing, we never got our time before the judge.

And so began two decades of silence.

Later that day of April 16, 2018, I also sent a short email to the board secretary: “My name is Nicky Bauerkemper, and I am requesting to review any Board of Directors minutes pertaining to the involvement of Trent Yoder, who has pleaded guilty to sexual exploitation of children, in school activities. I would be happy to review these documents at the district office or receive them by email as early as possible. I also request that a review of the issue be placed on the next board meeting agenda.”

On the April 18, he replied simply: “In reviewing past school board minutes and agendas, I find there are no records matching your request.”

Schneider’s was a unilateral decision, as allowed in the board policies, and it had never been discussed at a meeting.

I left my job early to meet with the school board in a closed session in Wellman on April 23, arriving home at 1 a.m.

Though they had been brought into the loop, I was not invited to speak to the spelling club or church when, I was told they met and discussed the issue on the April 19 and 22, respectively. They were preparing for a media frenzy, I was told.

The sense of urgency felt by victims was not a feeling shared by the school board.

Let me be clear: I did not initiate contact with Des Moines Register education reporter Mackenzie Ryan, but I did answer questions when she called me the afternoon of the April 25. I emailed a heads-up about the impending story to Schneider, Board President Pickard and Board Secretary Swartzentruber before 5 p.m. that day.

The Register’s story first appeared online late Thursday night, April 26. The story was then picked up by the likes of Newsweek, the Washington Post, New York Post and television and radio news networks across the country.

It also reached parents in the Mid-Prairie district - reaching many ahead of the school’s statement, which came 11 days following our impassioned alarms to the school, Kalona Public Library and East Union church leaders.

It is a shame that more was done to guard reputations than to safeguard children.

As reported in the news, at sentencing time the victim’s family’s wish was openly stated: that he never teach or coach again. Do you think that meant strictly professionally, i.e. “if he makes money doing it?”

Trent Yoder appears to be wildly out of touch with his actions, impact, and may have gotten comfortable in the space of time and distance, emboldened by his regained trust and support. He is flagrantly disregarding the wishes of his victim to pursue his personal desires.

Legally permissible? Yes. Morally repugnant? Without question.

Children are not tools to perform redemption or rehabilitation, nor means to arrogantly satisfy personal interests and talents. Trent Yoder’s second chance was being permitted outside the confines of prison walls. His third chance was getting off the state’s registry of sex offenders.

He is not at all entitled to ever again earn the trust, respect, or admiration of children or be in a position of authority over them. The Department of Education agrees, as his teaching certificate is permanently revoked.

Only Trent Yoder and God know if his remorse and regret are sincere. It’s not worth the risk. (And I can tell you, not knowing for sure isn’t an easier pill to swallow.)

My life was permanently altered for the worse, even without validation or acknowledgment. What I know for sure is that God didn’t drop me to my knees and lay out my path to eastern Iowa to encourage the blind to keep leading the blind. We are not outsiders descending upon your world with our victim cards held high, intent on destruction for our own glory.

Your children are the beneficiaries of our struggle. Unite around them.

Trent Yoder can continue to perpetuate his half-truths until his dying breath relieves him of the task, but it makes absolutely no difference to the fact that all children deserve a childhood free from sexual abuse and from the people who commit it, allow it, and excuse it.

Trent Yoder’s skill set is not so unique that it cannot be replicated.

There are methods to help children without surrounding oneself with them or having any direct contact at all. There are also endless ways to help the community that are not child-related. The man is charismatic, brilliant and talented. I have full confidence that any good intentions of his can be redirected. I have sat in a roomful of his supporters, and I am thankful for each of them. He undoubtedly needs them during this time.

I hope it eases his mind that there is no redemption necessary here on Earth. Trent Yoder’s mistakes have already been redeemed by his victims.

Directly related to the trauma of our pasts or not, we are now (or have been) social workers, camp counselors for the abused and at-risk, child care providers, educators and administrators, mental health therapists, nurses, and even an inventor of the renowned first-quarter “Hawkeye Wave” to pediatric patients.

If you think Trent Yoder is great, I hope that someday you have the pleasure of meeting the women he victimized – your socks will be knocked clean off.

Superintendent Mark Schneider knowingly let the fox into the henhouse, told no one else and put in place a faulty “safety mechanism.” While it has been hailed as the end-all, singular solution, in this and many cases, the “two-adult rule” is not an adequate preventative measure on its own. For one, it would not have prevented the event for which Yoder was convicted.

He was in his classroom teaching or on a planning/lunch period; she was in the bathroom with a false sense of privacy.

Also, when adults are not aware of why they must keep another adult in their presence, nor are they or any of their peers trained to prevent, recognize, and react responsibly to child sexual abuse, what can you reasonably expect of them? Should consent not be considered from someone who is being held responsible for preventing, identifying, or reporting suspicious behaviors?

What now?

Policy must be augmented because administrators need more oversight in their decision-making to prevent future egregious errors of judgment like the ones made by Superintendent Schneider. It’s a shame that a course of action must be outlined to govern commonsense - but it is very obviously needed in this case and in this community.

One positive outcome is that, thanks to this example, schools across the state are reviewing their volunteer policies to ensure that there is no room for unilateral risk-taking at the expense of their pupils. Another outcome: I’ll be submitting this situation to my public relations alma mater as a case study of inept crisis management.

It will be a long road to recovery for the Mid-Prairie district in recouping its public’s trust. The unwillingness to hear out parents and stakeholders is embarrassing. The lack of communication and transparency throughout the years is appalling. The delay to action is inexcusable.

Parents of spellers, etc.: I beg you to cultivate your students’ abilities elsewhere, outside the clutches of a convicted felon. I’m fully confident that even a 10-year-old me, pre-Yoder, would have been peeved if my parents knowingly allowed me to be under the tutelage of a man who harmed others in the same situation.

Sexual abuse happens everywhere, by people we know and trust, right under our noses. We owe it to our children and to other peoples’ children to be informed. We can’t change the past. And when our past became your present, we stepped up in the hopes that the worst of it wouldn’t become your future. Now it’s your turn for action.

To Becky Curtis, who penned a May 3 letter to the editor: “Thoughts on Trent Yoder and Mid-Prairie school”:

Let me reassure you that Trent Yoder was always a positive, polite, kind, smart, enthusiastic person leading up to and throughout 1998, and I, too, felt pride and esteem for my achievements. I was an excellent speller then, as I am now, and it’s greatly attributable to Mr. Yoder. The skill has served me well throughout my education and career.

However, if given the option, I would gladly trade my spelling aptitude for the time I’ve spent surveying bathrooms and changing rooms for hidden camera opportunities, the hair clips I could have worn throughout junior high and high school had they not been holding my bedroom curtains as closed as possible so that no one could look in.

My educational attainment would have been unquestionably higher had I not lost respect and motivation about school. I went from scoring in the 99th percentile on my 1998 Iowa Tests of Basic Skills to failing classes because of incomplete work in junior high - especially prominent in classes with male teachers.

Still, I managed to score in at least the top 12 percent nationally on my ACTs, made it into the Honors College at my university, and even there, despite scoring well on tests, assignments, and in-class work, I bombed my foreign language oral exam.

It was one-on-one with the male professor in his office. I froze - my brain only able to perform a tiny danger beacon from a distant memory.

The list of affected behaviors realized in hindsight goes on and on. (I’ll spare the both of us, dear readers.) My point is this: the spelling coaching I received was not worth it. The theater sets are not worth it. Nothing is worth what I, what we’ve, been through.

Through it all, I’ve persevered, grown, and healed. This part of my life had largely remained a secret until I made the conscious decision to speak out in the hopes that there will not be another generation of survivors of Trent Yoder’s top-notch manipulation.

In response to the editorial in The News titled, “No winners in Mid-Prairie district’s volunteer crisis,” my friend Marla summed this one up for you in a single sentence: “There are winners: kids who don’t become victims because someone said, ‘This is not OK!’”

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