‘Schoolyard bully’: Utah school board member Cline slammed for post about student-athlete

Feb 7, 2024, 8:54 PM | Updated: Feb 8, 2024, 12:35 am

Utah State Board of Education member Natalie Cline is facing scrutiny for a social media post on Tu...

Utah State Board of Education member Natalie Cline is facing scrutiny for a social media post on Tuesday that included "a mocking statement ... targeting a female highs school student," according to Equality Utah. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

(Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

MURRAY — Utah State Board of Education member Natalie Cline is once again facing public scrutiny for her social media posts, with the latest incident involving Cline on Tuesday posting “a mocking statement on Facebook targeting a female high school student,” according to a statement from Equality Utah.

Cline’s since-deleted post was a screenshot of an Instagram post from a girls basketball team in the Granite School District promoting an upcoming game. The post, which was captioned “Girls basketball…” also included a picture of two student-athletes on the team. Although Cline’s original post has been deleted, screenshots of it, as well as comments that were made on it, circulated on social media Wednesday.

“Cline’s post inferred that the teenager might be transgender. The student, in fact, is not,” leaders of LGBTQ advocacy group Equality Utah said in a statement.

The comment section of Cline’s post quickly filled with transphobic vitriol and bullying directed at one of the students.

“Natalie Cline has a history of posting inflammatory opinions; however, this is a new level of depravity and bullying,” Equality Utah leaders said. “Cline’s post perpetuates a modern-day witch hunt, where hysterical adults police the bodies of children to determine if they are masculine or feminine enough.”

Cline responded with a statement posted to Facebook Wednesday that reads, “I previously shared a public advertisment for a school basketball game and it created a firestorm around one of the players pictured. Personal information as well as derogatory comments about the player were made by several commenters. To protect the player, I have removed the post. My deepest apologies for the negative attention my post drew to innocent students and their families.”

Much like her initial post, Cline’s statement was met with supporters affirming her behavior and others criticizing her targeting of a public school student, even drawing the ire of Utah state Rep. Kera Birkeland, R-Morgan — the lawmaker who sponsored a controversial bill passed in 2022 that banned transgender girls from competing on girls sports teams at public schools.

Birkeland commented on Cline’s statement on Facebook and said that if it were her child who was targeted, she’d “be talking to an attorney right now.”

“It is not brave or responsible to attack someone based on their outward appearance, especially when it’s a child. It’s horrible. A post was made to stir up controversy over a GIRL who plays basketball,” Birkeland said. “There is a process in place to make sure that high school athletics in Utah are fair and where appropriate, separated by sex. Trust the process. And even if you don’t trust the process, be good enough humans to handle your concerns through the appropriate channels. For those saying that player is a boy, PLEASE stop. She’s a girl and she deserves privacy and respect.”

Natalie Cline is pictured. Utah State Board of Education member Cline is facing public scrutiny for social media posts with the latest incident involving Cline on Tuesday posting “a mocking statement on Facebook targeting a female high school student.” (Photo: Utah State Board of Education)

Ben Horsley, spokesman for Granite School District, told on Wednesday that the district is aware of Cline’s post.

“We have significant concerns with the apparent intent of board member Cline’s post and are working to ensure the safety and well-being of this student. We are also taking additional precautions for the safety and security of the school as the comments on the post indicated the potential for significant disruption to the educational and extracurricular activities associated with this campus,” says a statement from the district.

The Utah State Board of Education responded to a request for comment Wednesday evening, saying it “does not have a statement at this time.”

Cline’s post is the latest in a long run of social media activity that has drawn criticism and in some instances, “incited hate speech,” as the State Board of Education deemed in September 2021 after taking an “unprecedented” step of reprimanding Cline for her social media use.

In July 2023, Cline once again fell under investigation by the board for a possible investigation of board bylaws after she allegedly made a comment about a Utah State Board of Education staff member’s gender orientation during a presentation at the Taylorsville Library as part of an organization she runs called “Higher Ground,” according to people in the audience.

A month after the investigation was launched, the board concluded with a determination that Cline did not violate any board bylaws.

“This is a pattern of irresponsible behavior from Cline, whose sanctimonious rhetoric conceals her true character — she is a mean, schoolyard bully. Cline is now harming the very children she has been elected to protect. If she does not show the decency to resign, we call on Utah voters to protect Utah’s children and deny her a second term this November,” said Equality Utah.

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‘Schoolyard bully’: Utah school board member Cline slammed for post about student-athlete