ORANGE CITY, Iowa -- They kept their emotions in check throughout the hearing. But once it was over, the dozens who had watched former Sioux Center, Iowa, teacher Curtis Van Dam plead guilty to having sexual contact with at least six young boys could release their feelings.
Many hugged outside the courtroom. Others spoke softly with one another in the Sioux County Courthouse rotunda. Some dabbed tears from their eyes.
All had filled the courtroom and showed little visible emotion as Van Dam, 37, of Sioux Center, pleaded guilty Friday in Sioux County District Court to one count of second-degree sexual abuse, five counts of third-degree sexual abuse and one count of sexual exploitation by a school employee.
As he reviewed each of the charges with Van Dam, District Judge Steven Andreasen referred to the evidence and minutes of testimony -- a court document containing a synopsis of what witnesses might say if called to testify at trial -- while determining whether Van Dam was guilty.
"Do the minutes state what you did?" Andreasen asked.
"Yes, your honor," Van Dam answered quietly.
Prison sentences for the charges to which Van Dam pleaded add up to 80 years, but it will be up to Andreasen to decide if all or some of the charges will be served consecutively -- back to back -- or concurrently -- at the same time -- or a combination of the two.
Van Dam, who taught for nine years at Sioux Center Christian School, will receive, at minimum, 25 years for the second-degree sexual abuse charge, and he must serve at least 17.5 years of that sentence before he's eligible for parole.
Andreasen also could order Van Dam's prison sentence for the state charges to be served consecutively to a 15-year federal prison sentence he received in September after pleading guilty to one count of sexual exploitation of a child, a charge stemming from a separate set of victims and circumstances in Sioux Center. At that sentencing, U.S. District Judge Leonard Strand recommended the term be served consecutively to his state sentence.
Andreasen scheduled sentencing for Jan. 11. Sentencing initially had been scheduled for Friday, but Van Dam's attorney, Edward Bjornstad, of Spirit Lake, Iowa, had earlier asked that it be delayed so Van Dam can obtain a psycho-sexual evaluation before he's sentenced, enabling Andreasen to consider its findings at sentencing.
Under terms of a plea agreement, Van Dam will be required to register for life with the Iowa Sex Offender Registry and will serve a special sex offender sentence in which he will be on parole for life after his release from prison. If he were to violate terms of the special sentence, he could be returned to prison. Van Dam also must pay $1,750 in civil penalties.
Accused of having sexual contact with at least 13 children between August 2014 and October 2017, Van Dam faced 146 charges, 103 of them felonies, related to inappropriate contact with children. The remaining charges will be dismissed as part of his plea agreement.
In his own words, Van Dam told Andreasen that he had engaged in sex acts against the will of six victims, one of them under age 12. He admitted that he touched their genitals and that all were students. The separate incidents to which he pleaded occurred as long ago as Oct. 5-30, 2015, and as recent as Oct. 17, 2017.
Van Dam was arrested on Oct. 23, 2017, after the parents of an 11-year-old boy reported that Van Dam had had sexual contact with their son. At least 15 boys later came forward to report incidents involving Van Dam, police have said. He was accused of sexually abusing or having inappropriate contact with some of the children on at least 24 separate occasions over several months.
According to court documents, some or all of the children were under age 12 or 13, and the incidents took place at various locations, including at school. A fifth-grade teacher, Van Dam was fired after charges mounted against him.