South Dakota database reveals the bad apples among teachers

A database of teacher’s license application denials, suspensions and revocations in South Dakota reveals surprising details parents and school administrators need to know.

The database, run by the…

A database of teacher’s license application denials, suspensions and revocations in South Dakota reveals surprising details parents and school administrators need to know.

The database, run by the state’s Department of Education, has nearly 100 cases going back to 2009.  These include 34 permanent license revocations, 11 multi-year suspensions, 30 denied applications and 20 “conditionally” granted licenses.

Reasons for action taken against teachers include armed robbery, embezzlement, bribery, violent assault, domestic assault, and various forms of actual and attempted sexual misconduct involving students.

South Dakota, like other states, requires a licensed teacher to adhere to a code of professional ethics and standards, which preclude criminality and moral turpitude. However, the application and enforcement of these standards hasn’t always been uniform.

Take the case of Brian Sieh, a credentialed educator and administrator since 2003, who has been subjected to numerous findings of professional misconduct by the South Dakota Professional Teachers Practices and Standards Commission.

Sieh was first suspended for two years in 2014 for multiple DUI convictions, along with 22 instances of passing bad checks. He also had a domestic assault conviction he failed to mention on his original license application. 

After serving his suspension, Sieh reapplied and was denied due to his repeated untruthfulness in the earlier proceedings, which had since come to light.  

He had failed to disclose he was arrested for another DUI just 4 weeks before his initial suspension hearing. He “simply had forgotten about it,” he claimed, according to records in the database. 

Sieh was barred from reapplying until Dec. 2017.  

In Jan. of 2018, Sieh once again applied for reinstatement of his license. The hearing produced a remarkable history of behavior. Sieh was asked a series of questions, the first being, “Since your last certification was issued, have you been arrested or charged with any criminal offense?” 

Sieh then recited the details of three DUIs, thirteen separate charges of passing bad checks, and a case of domestic assault. 

The second question delved a bit deeper.  

“Since your last certification was issued, have you been convicted or pleaded guilty to any criminal offense,” to which Sieh replied with the particulars of his numerous charges of Theft by Insufficient Funds – each of which included multiple counts – followed by an overview of his felony DUI history. 

In his defense, Sieh asserted, “I have been sober since September 20, 2014 which is 3 years and 3 months after attending treatment for alcohol from May 15, 2014 until I was discharged on May 2, 2015.” 

However, Sieh neglected to mention his arrest and conviction for having an open alcoholic beverage in a vehicle in May of 2016, a conviction of which the commission was already aware. 

But, despite his colorful history and repeated untruths, Sieh was issued a five-year teaching certificate conditional on keeping his nose clean. That certificate is up for renewal in July 2023. 

The database also revealed many permanent revocations relating to sexual misconduct involving students. Of the thirty-four listed revocations, twenty-three involved sexual contact with students, six of which were under the age of 13. 

Remaining revocations included motor vehicle homicide, drug charges, bribery and embezzlement, and a case of armed robbery. Clearly, teachers are no more immune to human failings than society at large, but it is disturbing to note the number of sexual offenses against children is many times higher among teachers when compared to the general public. 

Whether the close proximity to children is attracting people with an unhealthy interest in kids, or if the erosion of moral standards have normalized aberrant behavior, remains unclear. 

However, offering parents the transparency of an easily navigated and up to date website documenting criminality and malfeasance in education is a grand step toward deterring misbehavior and weeding out offenders who move from school to school seeking to exploit the vulnerable. 

While the authorities may fail to make good decisions, as in the case with Brian Sieh, South Dakota’s State Department of Education offers a model to other states in how to bring the subject of educator’s misconduct out of the shadows for all to see.