BURLINGTON — Chantel Taff says that while her husband, Burlington High School teacher Jeff Taff, did attend the Jan. 6 election protest at the U.S. Capitol, he never entered the building or engaged in any violence.
Chantel Taff and an attorney representing her husband have come to Taff’s defense, suggesting that criticism of his teaching methods is politically motivated.
“It is devastating to see such hate come from a small part of our community,” Chantel Taff wrote in a lengthy statement posted Monday on Facebook.
Kenosha attorney Todd Terry wrote in an email that he is representing Taff while the Burlington Area School District investigates complaints about the social studies teacher.
Terry called Taff “an exemplary educator” and said the BHS teacher is cooperating with the school district’s investigation. Terry wrote: “It is unfortunate that the complaint triggering this investigation is based on the cancel culture and political environment we find ourselves in.”
Dictionary.com defines cancel culture as “the popular practice of withdrawing support for (canceling) public figures and companies after they have done or said something considered objectionable or offensive. Cancel culture is generally discussed as being performed on social media in the form of group shaming.”
The Burlington Area School District has released public comments about a teacher currently being investigated for alleged sharing of unapproved lesson plans that included a video that furthered baseless allegations of election fraud. Some members of the public are accusing the school district of violating the teacher's right to free speech, while another expressed concerned about his ability to teach students "about our country without bias."
A student at Burlington High School raised questions earlier this month after Taff told students he was taking time off work to travel to Washington, D.C., to promote what he called “election integrity.” Taff also directed students to watch a video advancing baseless claims of voter fraud in the 2020 presidential election, in which Democratic challenger Joe Biden defeated Republican incumbent Donald Trump.
School district officials removed Taff from the classroom and placed him on administrative leave on Jan. 7, one day after a pro-Trump rally at the U.S. Capitol turned violent as members of Congress were meeting to certify Biden’s election.
Other students and parents have come forward to accuse Taff of using his classroom to promote his own political beliefs and of belittling students who disagree with him. Supporters assert that the teacher is being wrongfully scrutinized for exercising his right to free speech.
Burlington Area School District officials say their investigation is focused not on Taff’s trip to Washington, but on his classroom materials and on other matters reported more recently “of a similar nature.”
Todd wrote in an email statement that his client hopes to quickly resume teaching at Burlington High.
“Mr. Taff stands on his dedication to his students, and is vehemently defending himself against the misinformation, venom and outright lies being pushed by those who perceive themselves to be his adversaries,” the attorney wrote. “He looks forward to returning to the classroom as soon as possible.”
Jeff Taff, who earns $50,000 a year from the Burlington Area School District, has declined to comment.
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Wife speaks out
Chantel Taff, in her statement on Facebook, said her husband told students, both verbally and in an online message, that he was traveling to Washington to, in her words, “witness a historical event” and “in support of our constitutional rights.”
She said he did travel to Washington, but he did not engage in any violence. She wrote that he left before a 6 p.m. curfew that was imposed after a pro-Trump mob broke away from the protest and turned violent.
“Jeff was in D.C., but took no part in the violence and illegal conduct that occurred,” she wrote. “He never entered, nor attempted to enter, the Capitol building, and left well before the imposed curfew.”
Chantel Taff also wrote that the video her husband posted in his online lesson plan for students was intended “to provoke discussion and critical thinking.” The video promoted debunked conspiracy theories that Trump lost the election to Biden because of voter fraud and other irregularities.
Of her husband’s critics, Chantel Taff wrote that they are trying to depict her husband as a “violent white supremacist racist,” which she said is untrue.
“This is all driven by a political agenda,” she wrote. “These actions are not helping to create the supposed unity and togetherness that we all seek.”