Investigation into Burlington HS teacher's controversial lesson plan nears end

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BURLINGTON, Wis. (CBS 58) -- Nearly two months after being put on leave, a Burlington High School social studies teacher's future remains up in the air.

The district has hired an outside investigator to review the teacher's materials and a discrimination complaint filed against him.

In one instance, teacher Jeff Taff assigned students to investigate conspiracy theories related to the pandemic and provided evidence supporting and refuting the ideas.

Some parents said his methods were inappropriate.

"When we start posting theories as fact in a classroom, that's definitely concerning, whatever theory that may be," said parent Laura Bielefeldt.

At issue is a current events lesson assigning students to watch some YouTube videos and read articles to fact check conspiracy theories about the COVID pandemic.

"I think getting students to use their critical thinking is very important, and if we're dealing with juniors and seniors we can start getting into that a little bit more," said Bielefeldt.

Taff's attorney, Todd Terry, sent us a statement which said in part:

"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.”

"Unless he was teaching us the full lesson plan, its hard to jump to the conclusion as to what kids were asking leading up to that," said Aaron Melby, who supports Taff's reinstatement.

Melby has gotten to know Taff through church. He feels the district is not being consistent with how it reviews teachers' lesson plans. He points to a fourth grade teacher who taught a lesson on Black Lives Matter and racism following the Kenosha riots. It drew outrage from parents.

"She was back in the classroom within days," said Melby.

The school board read a statement at the time, which said in part:

"The board does not believe that a one-time use of curricular materials ought to define a teaching career and is most certainly not a terminable offense."

But now, another teacher's career in the district hangs in the balance, and parents are clearly split.

The district said the investigation is close to finishing.

It also said it's important to do this right, not fast.

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