Utah State Board of Education concludes Natalie Cline investigation with no reprimands

Aug 8, 2023, 11:34 AM | Updated: 5:32 pm

The Utah State Board of Education is pictured in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, July 26, 2022. (	Kristi...

The Utah State Board of Education is pictured in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, July 26, 2022. ( Kristin Murphy/Deseret News)

( Kristin Murphy/Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah State Board of Education (USBE) ended its personnel investigation over member Natalie Cline concluding she did not violate any board bylaws on Monday.

In a statement, the board said it had “concluded its analysis of several hotline complaints” against Cline. In July, KSL NewsRadio reported that Cline was under investigation for recent comments over a staff member’s gender orientation, recent social media posts, and one other unknown situation.

Additionally, State School Board auditors confirmed those are three of 87 complaints made against Cline since around the time she was last publicly reprimanded by the board in September 2021 for social media posts that they said “incited hate speech.”

Here’s a look into the two complaints the board referenced in the announcement that Cline didn’t violate board bylaws.

The Taylorsville Complaint

On June 29, Cline gave a presentation at the Taylorsville Library as part of an organization she runs called “Higher Ground.”

Higher Ground’s website has statements saying that the “public school system is out of control” and that “families are being overcome by a social change agenda as strong and relentless as a tsunami.” The website also claims some school methods, like social-emotional learning, are used to “behaviorally condition children toward value systems and mindsets” that promote social agendas over traditional, family-based norms.

At the end of Cline’s presentation, she allegedly made a comment about a Utah State Board of Education staff member’s gender orientation, according to people in the audience.

“Natalie said that the person who is in charge of family services of USBE … sometimes they came in and you didn’t know if they were a man and a woman, or how they were dressing, or what pronouns they would want you to use,” Julie Jackson told KSL NewsRadio last month.

Jackson is a member of the Granite School Board. She attended the presentation because it was in her district and she wanted to get an understanding of what the group believed.

Jackson said the comments crossed a line into discrimination when Cline questioned the Board of Education staffer’s ability to do her job.

In the video presentation posted online, that portion of the video was edited out, and a message tells the viewer the camera’s battery died.

During the preliminary analysis, board leadership requested an additional investigation, which included legal counsel and a request for a response from Cline.

“The board met twice last week to review the evidence and consider possible action. USBE takes seriously any report of improper conduct by its members, including allegations about statements that violate the privacy of staff members,” the USBE stated in a press release.

Because of the “lack of sufficient evidence,” the board is not taking action against Cline in the Taylorsville complaint, according to the USBE.

The Facebook Post Complaint

USBE said the second complaint against Cline was about a Facebook post made on July 4. KSL NewsRadio reported the post was alleging that schools were complicit in grooming children for sex trafficking by giving kids easy access to “explicit, unnatural, and twisted sexual content brainwashing them into queer, gender-bending ideologies.”

“Board acknowledges that its members have the right to speak under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, including controversial speech on policy issues and speech that is critical of the government; but the board also expects members to follow its bylaws and use civility and accuracy in communication,” the USBE stated.

On July 18, Cline responded to a USBE statement about her comments and accused the board leadership of releasing an “ill-advised” press release that subjected her character to a “gross misrepresentation.”

In Cline’s response, she said the board leadership knew about the preliminary analysis on July 13, but the leadership “issued its defamatory press release after receiving the Internal Audit Reports,” telling Cline in an email they “still ‘determined there to be merit to the concerns.'”

The USBE board responded to her claims in its Monday press release, saying the leadership exercised “its own right to speak in a press release.”

“USBE regrets that inaccurate statements regarding the investigation and preliminary analysis in this matter during the confidential investigation led to premature conclusions and speculation regarding board action,” USBE stated.

Cline was reprimanded in September 2021 by the Board of Education.

Utah Education Association Responds to USBE

On Tuesday, the Utah Education Association (UEA) criticized the USBE for not reprimanding Cline for her Facebook comments about local educators.

“We are deeply troubled by USBE’s failure to find her toxic words in violation of its standards and its unwillingness to take action to reprimand or censure Cline,” the UEA stated in a press release.

The UEA said that Cline’s comments against educators were “unfounded, but also dangerous” that “erodes the trust between educators, students, parents, and the community.”

“I am horrified that an elected official entrusted with overseeing education policy in our state would blatantly disregard teachers’ tireless efforts and intentionally create an environment of mistrust and hostility detrimental to the educational process,” President Renee Pinkney said.

The UEA urged Cline to acknowledge the potential harm she caused with her statement and asked her to apologize to local educators.

Cline didn’t respond to requests for comment from KSL.

Contributing: Lindsay Aerts, KSL NewsRadio and Logan Stefanich,

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Utah State Board of Education concludes Natalie Cline investigation with no reprimands