BURLINGTON — A teacher at Burlington High School has been pulled out of the classroom after allegations that he directed students to watch a video baselessly questioning the outcome of the 2020 presidential election.
Jeff Taff, a social studies teacher, also told students that he was traveling this week to Washington D.C. In an online lesson plan shared on social media, he claimed he was "standing up for election integrity."
It was not immediately clear whether Taff was part of a demonstration Wednesday at the U.S. Capitol that turned violent, led to four deaths and delayed Congress’s confirmation of Joe Biden’s election win.
Taff could not be reached for comment.
Placed on leave
Burlington Area School District officials on Thursday said a teacher has been placed on leave from his job while officials investigate information posted in an online lesson plan. Officials did not disclose details of the information being reviewed.
“The teacher has been placed on administrative leave so that we can investigate the totality of the circumstances,” the district said in a prepared statement.
The district did not identify the teacher by name, but others on social media have identified Taff, a social studies teacher in his seventh year at Burlington High School.
According to a purported online lesson plan shared on social media, Taff told students he was taking time off work to travel to Washington. He wrote: “Some of you will understand why. Some will not. I am sorry, but standing up for election integrity and our right to vote in fair elections is too important for me to not be there.”
He told students he would be gone from school Tuesday through Thursday and planned to return Friday.
In the online lesson plan, he directed students to review materials that included a video discussing debunked claims calling into question President-elect Biden’s victory in the Nov. 3 election over incumbent President Donald Trump.
School district officials would not address the authenticity of the lesson plan posted on social media.
Officials, however, said district administrators became aware of the situation Tuesday when a student raised questions about a classroom assignment that had been posted online. In its statement, the district also said the teacher had taken personal time off work, and that the planned trip to Washington “was not related to any duties as a teacher.”
The district offered a condemnation of the violent pro-Trump mob that attacked the nation’s Capitol in an effort to discredit Biden’s election: “In a time that has no precedent, we recognize that within our district, we have varying perspectives. We feel urgency in embracing our entire community of learners as we seek to explore diverse ideas without bias.”
It is the second time this school year that a Burlington teacher has been scrutinized for having classroom lessons that involved controversial politics, although the lesson plans in question were drastically different.
Last fall, after students raised questions about the Black Lives Matter movement, fourth-grade teacher Melissa Statz taught a lesson regarding the movement and led a classroom discussion about racial injustice. BASD School Board members later held a public discussion about the situation, and permitted supporters and critics alike to publicly evaluate Statz’s teaching methods, with many complaining that the lesson was not part of the curriculum.
Darnisha Garbade is president of the Burlington Coalition to Dismantle Racism, a group that has rallied behind Statz and called out incidents of alleged racism in Burlington. She said there are many similarities in Statz’s situation and what Taff is suspected of doing. Garbade wants BASD officials to explain how they plan to handle the accusations against him.
Garbade said she believes it would be wrong for Taff to use the classroom as a forum for promoting the pro-Trump beliefs that spawned Wednesday’s riot in Washington.
“We definitely have an issue with that,” she said. “We do want to hold him accountable — and hold the district accountable.”
Statz said she was aware of Taff's situation, but she does not think her working to promote racial tolerance can be equated with what she considers to be evidence of Taff's blatant politicizing in the classroom.
"I don't think it's fair of people to compare the two," she said.
Who is Taff?
According to his page on the BASD website, Taff has been a teacher at Burlington High School for seven years. Originally from Iron Mountain, Mich., he has previously taught in both Michigan and North Carolina.
“I have found teaching to be my calling, and I am very happy with my career decision,” he posted on the site. He also posted that he is engaged in “self-directed leadership education that teaches one how to think for oneself.”
Taff was scheduled this school year to teach courses titled “Modern American History” to sophomores and “Modern World History” to juniors.
Accusations surrounding the Burlington school teacher are stirring strong reactions among some people on social media.
Sam Wunderle, a vice chairman of the Democratic Party of Racine County, said BASD officials should investigate and possibly remove Taff from the classroom for allegedly promoting “conspiracy theories” about the presidential election.
Wunderle, who lives outside the Burlington school district, said he also wonders if the district has other employees who share Taff’s beliefs.
“If I were a citizen within the district,” Wunderle said, “I would be demanding immediate answers and action.”
Another man posted on Facebook: “One of my kids (sic) teachers was at the Capitol yesterday, attending a super spreader terrorist event, and planning on coming back tomorrow to continue indoctrinating our kids. This is the same community that was outraged when a teacher made a small unit explaining BLM to 4th graders that were confused about what was happening in our world.”