Certification revoked for former Central High cross country coach accused of inappropriate massages

Accusations prompt proposed change in South Dakota's definition of sexual contact

RAPID CITY, S.D. – The South Dakota Department of Education has revoked the teaching certificate belonging to a former Rapid City Central High School Head cross country coach after five students came forward to say he had “massaged” them inappropriately in hotel rooms on trips to competitions. No charges were filed due to the state’s restricted definition of sexual contact, something lawmakers are actively working to change. 

Thad Caldwell’s teaching certificate was issued on January 15, 2016 and “immediately and permanently revoked” January 20, 2022.

Caldwell was promoted to Head cross country coach at Central High School in 2012. According to a 2012 article by the Rapid City Journal, Caldwell had previously taught physical education for 17 years at Dakota Middle School, before the school became Rapid City High School.

Allegations were first brought to light on August 31, 2020, years after the abuses occurred, when two students on the cross-country team reported that Caldwell had massaged their glute area. According to documents filed in the Department of Education, Caldwell had been conditioning students “to believe the ‘massages’ were appropriate”, honing in on younger students who didn’t “understand the boundaries between a coach and an athlete.” The ‘massages’ happened when the students were in 7th, 8th, and 9th grades. They cited occasions where Caldwell would reach under their clothing to massage them, all while he told the girls that “other students love it when he ‘massages’ out their glutes.”

One student, referred to as ‘Student E’ in documents, told an attorney the following:

“Student E believed Student E could not do anything because Caldwell was an ‘authoritative figure’ in Student E’s life and in charge of Student E’s running opportunities. “

The Rapid City Area Schools District placed Caldwell on paid administrative leave the same day the allegations were reported. The next day, an investigation began by the South Dakota Department of Education’s Professional Teachers Practices and Standards Commission.

Five students were interviewed and their allegations deemed credible. On September 11, 2020, Caldwell was placed on unpaid administrative leave.

He resigned one week later. His teaching certification remained active.

RCAS officials filed a complaint against Caldwell with the Dept. of Education in April 2021 alleging he violated the “Code of Professional Ethics” for teachers in regards to student relationships.  Caldwell submitted the following statement a month later in response to the complaints:

“Even though I do not agree with the complaints filed against me, I will not be renewing my Teaching Certificate, which expires this summer. I will not be pursuing another teaching or coaching position.”

Caldwell’s certificate expired on July 1, 2021. Allowing a teaching certificate to expire does not prevent a teacher from acquiring a certificate in another state, though each state’s certification requirements differ.

Parents of one of the victims, one of whom testified in Pierre during the Senate Judiciary hearing last week, also filed a complaint with the commission in August 2021. Proceedings commenced in December with the commission’s final conclusion reached in early January 2022.

It was found that, “Caldwell made efforts to ‘normalize’ his glute massages in order to get Students to believe his actions were appropriate when in fact his actions constituted grievous acts of moral turpitude, gross immorality and illicit sexual activity.”

As a result, Caldwell’s certificate is permanently revoked. Furthermore, his case and certificate number will be placed on the National Associated of the State Directors of Teacher Education and Certification clearinghouse. The clearinghouse serves all fifty states, the District of Columbia, Guam, and the Department of Defense Educational Opportunity schools as a single source database of disciplinary actions for teachers.

Categories: Local News, Politics & Elections, South Dakota News