Trent A. Yoder

Iowa elementary school teacher and volleyball coach convicted, removed

In 1998, Trent Yoder (b. 1970) pleaded guilty to a felony charge of exploitation of a child. He secretly filmed a high school girl changing clothes in the bathroom at Anita Elementary School, in Anita, Iowa, where he was a sixth grade teacher. Yoder also coached girls’ volleyball at Anita High School and Iowa Mennonite School, in Kalona, Iowa.

After he pleaded guilty, Yoder was sentenced to ten years in prison with the possibility of reconsideration after 30 days. Upon review, the judge was reportedly “convinced of Yoder’s repentance” and suspended the prison sentence. After serving one and a half months, Yoder was released with four years of probation and several conditions, including that he surrender his teaching certificate and abstain from coaching. Yoder was also required to register as a sex offender for 10 years.

In 1999, the Iowa Board of Educational Examiners permanently revoked Yoder’s teaching license, saying that in addition to the criminal conviction, “on several other occasions … Yoder asked female students, staff members and former students to try on sports bras in this same restroom, without an appropriate educational justification.”

Yoder reportedly continued volunteering at Iowa Mennonite School, building sets for the theater program. He also led a children’s choir and pageants at East Union Mennonite Church in Kalona.

In 2010, he volunteered with Wichita-based Empowering Haiti, Inc., who said he had “a special bond with children.”

In 2014, Yoder began volunteering in the Mid-Prairie Community School District, Wellman, Iowa, in various roles with primary and secondary school students. He also began his own independent spelling club for middle-schoolers, hosted on school grounds and using a name associated with the school district.

The district superintendent, despite learning of Yoder’s record of a sex crime through a background check, allowed Yoder to volunteer without informing parents in the district.

(School officials would later note a state law barring districts from disclosing criminal histories. However, they would also later revise their policies to require public vetting for those with disqualifying criminal records who want to appeal their disqualification.)

Instead of hearing from the school district, a woman who had been victimized by Yoder when she was a child discovered, in 2018, that he was again working with children. At the time of Yoder’s arrest, when she was in fifth grade, she reported that Yoder pulled her out of class and asked her to try on a t-shirt. She was ten years old when she says Yoder took her to a private restroom. She later reported on the life-long effects of that sexual exploitation.

The former student coordinated with others, also now adults, whom Yoder had asked to change in the restroom, to inform local leaders and request information. Eventually a group of at least 20 alleged victims came forward.

It was revealed that Mid-Prairie Community School District Superintendent Mark Schneider had initially denied Yoder’s volunteer application after a background check showed his history, but Yoder had already been volunteering in his son’s elementary school, and he appealed the decision.

The superintendent then approved him to volunteer, on the condition he always be accompanied by an adult, after “discussions with Yoder and a former prosecutor, as well as letters of support from a judge and a local pastor.” The East Union Mennonite Church pastor had written to recommend Yoder and his ongoing work with children at the church.

Another Mennonite, former county attorney Jerry Partridge, who had once been convicted of armed robbery and later became a proponent of victim-offender reconciliation, also wrote a letter supporting Yoder’s work with children. Partridge also advocated to Iowa Mennonite School — where Yoder had already been volunteering to build theater sets and had been given a school key to do so — to hire Yoder to direct a school play.

Despite acting as a clear advocate for Yoder to again be given supervisory roles with children, Partridge also sought to position himself as a mediator between Yoder and the community, including victims.

The Little Book of Restorative Justice for Sexual Abuse explains that mediation between victim and offender is rarely appropriate in cases of sexual harm and that all restorative justice processes, including restorative justice for communities, must be survivor-centered.

Before a statement from the school district reached parents, a week and a half after the victims had come forward, the story was covered by national news outlets across the country.

Mid-Prairie officials said they would continue to let Yoder volunteer, but only in his children’s classrooms. They also voted to retain Schneider as superintendent, stating that new policies would be implemented to prevent the superintendent from making unilateral decisions on such matters.

Schneider, in a statement describing his actions, said, “The central question for each of us to answer in our own hearts is, ‘Can a person learn and change from his/her past mistakes?’” One parent said, “There are no second chances with other people’s children.” A group of advocates for the victims said Schneider had not fully investigated Yoder’s actions and that Yoder’s activities also exceeded what was investigated at the time of his arrest.

One school board member said, “If he needs to be watched, that’s a problem,” and the sole board member who voted against extending Schneider’s contract said, “I do not believe Trent Yoder’s explanation of what happened 20 years ago. I believe the women. I believe the girls.”

A grandparent in the district who is also a therapist for both survivors and perpetrators of sexual assault compared people who offend sexually to those who battle addictions: “When you’re an alcoholic … you don’t go into a bar. To hear that this guy was seeking out and volunteering with children, I thought ‘Something is wrong here.’”

Church-related positions

  • Girls’ high school volleyball coach at Iowa Mennonite School in Kalona, Iowa, during the 1994–95 school year, and continued to volunteer building sets for the theater program off and on until 2018
  • Children’s choir and pageant director at East Union Mennonite Church, Kalona, Iowa

First-person accounts

  • No more,” Nicky Bauerkemper, May 9, 2018

Documentation

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