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Utah Legislature votes to reprimand school board member who questioned a student’s gender

By HANNAH SCHOENBAUM - Associated Press | Feb 15, 2024

Harrison Epstein, Standard-Examiner file photo

State school board member Natalie Cline speaks at the Freedom Festival in South Weber on Saturday, Sept. 25, 2021.

SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Legislature on Thursday voted to censure a conservative member of the state Board of Education whose social media post questioning the gender of a high school basketball player triggered threats against the girl and led state officials to call for the board member’s resignation.

Lawmakers passed a resolution condemning the actions of Natalie Cline a day after the Utah State Board of Education voted unanimously to strip Cline of her committee assignments and nearly all administrative responsibilities. The board will no longer allow Cline to attend meetings or place items on the agenda, and her colleagues have asked her to resign by Feb. 19.

The legislative reprimand, which now heads to the governor’s desk, carries no real punishment but is a formal way for lawmakers to express their disapproval. The measure received unanimous support in the Senate after passing the House with only two votes against, one from a Democrat and the other from a Republican.

Both the Legislature and Board of Education have left it up to Cline whether to resign or remain in her role with limited authority. She is up for reelection in November. Democrats had urged the Republican legislative leaders to punish Cline more harshly, either by impeaching her or by allowing the board to impeach her — a power it does not currently have.

Cline, who had previously come under investigation for inflammatory comments about LGBTQ+ students, singled out the Salt Lake City athlete in a Facebook post that falsely insinuated the girl was transgender. After she learned that the girl was not trans, Cline apologized for provoking a firestorm of vulgar comments.

House Speaker Mike Schultz, a Hooper Republican, said ahead of the vote that members of his chamber were “scattered” on whether to impeach Cline or allow voters to decide her future in the fall.

“If this body moves ahead with impeachment, this blows up like a mushroom cloud on the national stage,” Schultz said. “The hate that you’re seeing directed toward that family right now then becomes national. That’s a hard decision to make.”

House Minority Leader Angela Romero said she was frustrated that Republican leaders cut off debate before she could propose an amendment that would instead initiate impeachment proceedings. She and her fellow Democrats nonetheless overwhelmingly voted in favor of the resolution to censure Cline.

Republican Gov. Spencer Cox told reporters Thursday that he supports the board’s forceful censure and thinks it effectively has the same impact as impeachment. He had urged the board to take action against Cline, saying she “embarrassed the state.”

Even when she apologized, Cline defended her initial suspicions, saying that a national push to normalize transgender identities makes it “normal to pause and wonder if people are what they say they are.”

In a Facebook post Wednesday, Cline argued the board was taking away her right to represent her constituents without due process. She wrote that she did not have enough time to read all the materials and create a response before Wednesday’s meeting.

The board determined that Cline violated policies requiring members to respect student privacy and to uphold state educator standards, which include not participating in sexual or emotional harassment of students and treating students with dignity and respect.

The board’s resolution said Cline allowed negative comments about the girl to remain on her social media page while comments in support of the student were deleted, which together “appeared to constitute cyberbullying as defined” in Utah law.

In a letter published in The Salt Lake Tribune on Thursday the girl’s parents, Al and Rachel van der Beek, also urged Cline to resign and called for her impeachment.

“Ms. Cline did the very thing we teach our children not to do in terms of bullying, mocking and spreading rumors and gossip about others,” the letter said. “Ms. Cline did the very thing we teach our children not to do — she blasted social media without fact checking, which ultimately led to a barrage of hateful and despicable comments that were directed at our daughter that lasted for more than 16 hours.”


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