“This is truly indoctrination,” says a local activist against racism in Burlington schools.
When Burlington High School teacher Jeff Taff left work to take a few days off last week, he wrote a cheery message for his students and, like any teacher, gave them a list of homework assignments to complete and texts to read.
“Again, I plan to be back in class on Friday,” Taff wrote, according to photos of his email shared in a local Facebook group by a parent. “Please try your best with this week’s work, and when your best isn’t good enough, try reading the directions OR reading the directions AGAIN!”
But Taff wasn’t going on a routine vacation. He traveled Wednesday to Washington, DC, along with thousands of extreme supporters of outgoing President Donald Trump, many of whom wanted to protest non-existent election fraud. Thousands, however, went on to breach the US Capitol in an effort to disrupt or even prevent the Congressional tallying of electoral votes.
“Some of you will understand why! Some will not,” Taff wrote to his students. “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.”
The Burlington Area School District has now placed the social studies teacher on administrative leave. The proceedings in Washington began as a Trump rally but devolved into a domestic terrorist riot that left five dead as Congress worked to certify the Nov. 3 presidential election results. It is unclear to what extent Taff participated in the riotous Capitol assault, or if he ever set foot in the building.
“We are aware that a district employee, a teacher at BHS, shared with the teacher’s classes plans to travel to Washington D.C.,” the district wrote in a statement on its website. “School administration became aware of this on Tuesday afternoon when a student came forward to question an assignment posted in the teacher’s Google Classroom. The teacher used personal time off and the trip to Washington D.C. was not related to any duties as a teacher.”
Included in Taff’s class handouts was a link to a YouTube video from the Epoch Times, an extreme right-wing fake news source, in which host Roman Balmakov spends about nine minutes spreading blatant falsehoods and conspiracy theories about the presidential election.
The district says it is investigating “the totality of the circumstances” behind Taff’s sharing of the conspiracy-laden video.
In Taff’s staff autobiography on the school website, he calls teaching his “calling” and says he wants to “inspire and make a difference.” He has been a teacher in Burlington since 2012, according to his web page.
Taff’s behavior and handout sharply underscores the heated political climate in Burlington, a conservative, predominantly white city of about 10,000 in western Racine County.
For several years, activists have fought racism in Burlington’s schools. Tensions boiled over last year when a fourth-grade teacher tried to teach students about the Black Lives Matter movement, a lesson that sparked outrage among many white community members who accused the teacher of trying to brainwash their children.
To Darnisha Garbade, a Black mother who founded the Burlington Coalition for Dismantling Racism in 2019 after her children experienced racism in the school district, the contrast between the lessons couldn’t be more clear.
“Now, this is truly indoctrination,” Garbade told UpNorthNews of Taff’s handout. “The things they were accusing [the fourth-grade teacher] of is actually playing out now.”
Garbade said the district should fire Taff.
“He really crossed a line,” Garbade said. “And then to tell them to look at the video that he mentioned, I mean, he went way too far.”