The Mid-Prairie Community School Board is considering new policy changes months after the district faced backlash after a convicted sex offender was discovered to be volunteering inside its schools.
Trent Yoder was convicted in 1998 after pleading guilty to exploitation of a minor. He recorded a high school student changing in a restroom of an Anita elementary school, where he worked as a teacher. In April, it came to light that Yoder had been at times a volunteer in the Mid-Prairie Community School District. He had chaperoned field trips and built school play sets for the school.
Mid-Prairie Superintendent, Mark Schneider, had granted him special permission to do so with the stipulation that he be in the presence of another adult at all times.
Amid public outcry, Yoder said he would no longer volunteer in the district. Superintendent Schneider kept his job after he asked for a vote of confidence from the school board. The board chose to vote in favor of Schneider but vowed to create a vowed to create a new community in wake of what happened to focus on policy changes.
Mid-Prairie school board president, Jeremy Pickard, said the district isn’t shying away from the incident.
"When troubled times come it’s not a time to hide your head in the sand or run away from it. That’s not the Mid-Prairie way. The Mid-Prairie way is to address it and to come out of the back side of it better," Pickard said.
During the August 13 meeting, the board passed a series of policy changes and updates that were presented by a community committee of volunteers. The 30 person committee consisting of array of people from clergy to board members, parents and grandparents, to police.
Before the changes were proposed, a former student of Yoder during the time of his conviction spoke.
"It’s heartening that now together, including this board, we’re working to amend policy, provide education and resource and we’ve made great strides in raising awareness." Nicky Bauer-Kemper said. Bauer-Kemper and other former students of Yoder’s were adamant that Yoder shouldn’t be allowed to volunteer when the news first broke.
One of the changes brought forth by the committee was an expanded background check of school volunteers. Pickard estimated that the district currently has over 500 active volunteers. The board approved that the district use the same background checks for volunteers that they use for employees. In return, that will result in the district having to absorb higher costs. The background checks would go from $12 to $28. Instead of doing routine updated checks every five years like the district does for staff, the committee recommend volunteers get redone every two years.
"We’ve just made sure that we have the checks in place because we want out schools to be safe," Pickard said.
In the case of Yoder, his initial application was denied because of his application. He appealed the decision to Schneider who heard and approved him. Through the committee’s recommendation, appeals would be heard by the board instead.
"That is going to be contested to the school board in an open meeting so everybody can see what it is and what is on the table," Pickard said.
Another addition to the policies will require all Mid-Prairie staff to go through training to detect sexual abuse in victims of minors.
The changes are not official until the second reading at the next board meeting on August 27. Pickard said the changes would be immediate.
"In a situation that’s tough, we can still lead and allow other people to learn from the mistakes that we made so they don’t have to go through similar things," he said.