Sparta teacher’s controversial comments start district investigation

Sparta teacher on leave after political comments surface in audio recording; one student says those comments are 'out of context'
Sparta Teacher On Admin Leave

SPARTA, Wis. (WKBT) – The Sparta Area School District placed English teacher Jaimie Okusko on paid leave pending an investigation by school officials. The audio-only clip on YouTube reveals a conversation between Okusko and her students. Okusko criticized Republicans in the recording.

News 8 Now cannot verify the original producer of the video. The LAX Tea Party — a conservative political organization — posted the video to its YouTube page. We did not play the audio because we could not speak to the original producer.

A Sparta High School student — who asked to remain anonymous — confirmed what Okusko said in the classroom, but said there is more to these comments.

“I think a lot of it was taken out of context and a lot of it was pieced together in a certain way,” the student said during a Zoom interview with News 8 Now.

She said the class involved a lot of debate and critical thinking about issues going on in the community.

“This is an AP (literature) class, and we are meant to analyze a lot of stuff that does happen,” she said.

That said, a statement from the Sparta Area School District said the following Friday, “The Sparta Area School District has become aware of potentially inappropriate comments a staff member made during high school classes,” the statement said. “The comments were political in nature.”

The district would not comment on the recording, but its statement continued, “We have not reached a conclusion or made any final judgments regarding the disposition of the investigation. That said, we do want to emphasize that any statements that have been publicly shared and attributed to the teacher under investigation in this matter are the teacher’s personal viewpoints. As such, they do not reflect the viewpoints of the Sparta Area School District.”

Many community members signed a petition in support of Okusko. More than 2,000 people signed their names on so far. The student said people can learn from this incident.

“…be able to disagree in a respectful manner on both sides of it,” she said. “I think that’s a very important skill that all people should have.”

She said the situation taught her how to handle political conversations in the future, while the district investigates the truth.

“Be considerate and just try to be as neutral as possible,” she said.

News 8 Now tried contacting Okusko about the matter and did not hear back. We also tried to contact Coulee Region United Educators, but they did not want to comment until the district completes its investigation.