POLITICS & ELECTIONS

Utah Legislature formally censures school board member Natalie Cline

Feb 15, 2024, 2:26 PM | Updated: Feb 16, 2024, 8:36 am

SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah House and Senate voted to censure Utah State School Board member Natalie Cline Thursday. The resolution, HRC18, passed the Senate unanimously and passed the House with two no votes.

Rep. Robert Spendlove said the House has never approved censuring anyone and called it a “serious step.” He was the chief sponsor of the censure, with Sen. Ann Millner sponsoring it in the Senate.

Utah’s House of Representatives drafted the formal censure of Cline for her social media post of high school students on Feb. 6 that drew criticism from many of Utah’s politicians and educational leaders.

The resolution “strongly condemns USBE member Natalie Cline’s social media post questioning a student’s gender, which exposed the student to relentless harassment and bullying, including threats of violence, and censures board member Cline for her conduct.”

The censure, HCR18, doesn’t carry penalties for Cline but is a condemnation of Cline’s action.

Majority leaders defended the move not to impeach. House Speaker Mike Schultz, R-Hooper, said there weren’t enough votes to get the required two-thirds majority.

“Our body knew that was going to happen and going to come. And rather than to allow this political theater to play out, I think the focus wanted to be what was best for the family and not make it about a political statement without problems,” Schultz said.

Schultz said that unless anything changed with the votes, impeachment wasn’t likely to be an option to come back later in the session.

Democrats held a press conference immediately after the votes and said the censure didn’t go far enough. Democrats said they wanted to at least debate the possibility of impeachment for Cline but were not given that opportunity.

“We were going to try to start that impeachment process, but we were silenced on the House floor,” said House Minority Leader Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake City. “And so that’s why we’re here today to talk to the community. This is not about politics. Again, this is about process. And I want people back to be very clear. This is about process. We’re not playing politics. What happened up there was politics.”

Wednesday, the Utah State Board of Education voted to strip Cline of many of her board powers and asked her to resign “immediately.”

Utah State Board of Education votes to strip Natalie Cline of board powers, asks her to resign

“After reviewing all of the evidence, the crux of the issue is that a line here has been crossed,” state board member Christina Boggess said.

“Free speech does not give anyone the right to target, intimidate or harm young students,” board member Emily Green said.

Cline argued on Facebook that the board was taking away her right to represent her constituents and wasn’t being given due process.

The behavior in question was Cline’s posts on social media that inferred a teen on a school basketball team might be transgender. The student is not transgender, but the comments section of the post — since removed — was full of vitriol and inflammatory opinions and vulgarities, directed at one of the students.

Cline posted an apology for “any negative attention” her post drew to students and families.

That post was commented on by supporters who affirmed her behavior, while others criticized her for targeting a public school student. She blamed the controversy on a “loss of trust, which leads to suspicion about girls who are more buff than most.” She said that was a consequence of the “trans movement being foisted up us, which puts us all in a difficult spot.”

KSL TV spoke with the student’s parents about Cline’s recent actions not to step down, saying, “It’s not the resolution we were hoping for, but it’s a step in the right direction.”

“We’ll wait and see if Ms. Cline follows through with what her peers on the State Board, the governor, members of the legislation, and thousands of parents recommend she does and resigns. It might send a bigger message if the people of Utah have had their eyes opened a little more as a result of this and don’t re-elect her. Our state and our children deserve to be represented by people we can trust and that don’t undermine and bully our children,” the parents said to KSL TV.

KSL is not sharing the name of the school or the student’s identity.

Previously, Cline was investigated by the Utah State Board of Education, and in August 2023, it was found she did not violate any board bylaws. At the time, there were 87 complaints made against Cline since she was reprimanded by the board in September 2021 for social media posts the board then said “incited hate speech.”

Gov. Spencer Cox signed a bill in the current legislative session that restricts transgender bathroom use in government buildings. In 2022, lawmakers put a complete ban on transgender athletes competing in girls’ sports. Cox vetoed the bill and lawmakers voted to override the bill. That bill is under litigation.

Contributing: Andrew Adams, KSL TV

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Utah Legislature formally censures school board member Natalie Cline