BURLINGTON, Wis. - A Burlington Area School District teacher allegedly encouraged his students to take off their masks, but his attorney says it was meant to be a lesson in critical thinking. That attorney said Thursday, Feb. 25 the instructor, who previously made headlines when it was learned he was in the nation's capital on Jan. 6, "refuses to sit by as half-truths and outright lies are pedaled (sic) as facts."
In a news release sent out Thursday, administrators with the Burlington School District asked the public not jump to conclusions without knowing the facts surrounding the allegations against Jeff Taff, adding an investigation began after they were notified of Taff's plans to travel to Washington, D.C. on the day of the Capitol riot -- when a student questioned an assignment posted to Google Classroom.
Taff's attorney, Todd Terry, reminded that Taff is a history teacher, and to "ignore social issues we face every day would be shirking his responsibility to high school students."
The statement from Terry to FOX6 News added: "Jeff has never promoted COVID-19 conspiracy theories, but rather tasked students with researching 'existing theories' so the students could learn critical thinking. The very assignment of finding information in support of and in opposition to speaks of balance and process and not promotion."
Taff stands accused of encouraging students to ignore face mask requirements. His attorney said that is "patently false."
The school district responded to those allegations, saying personnel matters are confidential.
As the investigation continues, Taff was placed on a non-disciplinary leave of absence, per policy. School officials said he's fully cooperated with the district.
School district administrators reminded the public the investigation is not about Taff’s use of personal time to travel to Washington, D.C. between Jan. 5-7. Officials said they'll update the community when the investigation is complete.
Statement from Todd Terry, attorney for Jeff Taff:
"While Jeff Taff continues to respect that the Burlington School District has an investigation to conduct, he refuses to sit by as half-truths and outright lies are pedaled as fact."
"Please keep in mind Jeff teaches American History and Modern American History classes. To ignore the social issues that we all face every day would be shirking his responsibility to his high school students. As to the most recent "allegations": First, Jeff has NEVER promoted COVID-19 conspiracy theories but rather tasked students with researching "existing theories" so the students could learn critical thinking. The very assignment of finding information in support of and in opposition to speaks of balance and process and NOT promotion. In most circles that would be construed as "education," and "learning" and "critical thinking." The topic was used to focus on the skill of "using evidence to support or debunk a claim. Jeff provided the information on his google classroom page for further student viewing given that the virtual learning days are then followed by in-person school days when the students findings were discussed. This is how education occurs: introduce a topic, learn about it, research it and discuss it."
"As per the allegation that Jeff "encouraged students to ignore face mask requirements", the same is PATENTLY FALSE. The fact the accusation was reported from an anonymous email only adds to the suspect nature of the "complaint". The irony with the reporting that Jeff "posted on the screen of his classroom," was that the posting was in fact an excerpt from Governor Evers’ July 2020 Mask Mandate Executive Order. Jeff utilized the Executive Order as instructional materials and to point out that, at times, his mask may be down while teaching and that the same was permitted by Exemption 3 a. vi. to that Order. When the Burlington School District adopted a more stringent mask policy, Jeff complied with the same. At no time did Jeff encourage students to ignore or disregard the face mask requirements. He used his own situation to educate and promote critical thinking."
"We should demand that our educators promote critical thinking. In each and every allegation it is clear that Jeff promoted critical thinking on modern political topics. By cherry picking one half of the lesson or one excerpt, the media reports skew the process that an experienced and passionate educator uses."
Statement from Burlington Area School District
"Personnel matters are confidential."
"The Burlington Area School District hopes that the public has faith that when we get complaints of any nature - including those involving a teacher - the District takes the concern seriously, completes a thorough investigation, and assigns consequences."