EDUCATION & SCHOOLS

Natalie Cline returns to state school board after it censured her

Mar 8, 2024, 10:09 AM | Updated: Apr 12, 2024, 4:05 pm

Natalie Cline talks to those who came to support her at the monthly meeting for the Utah State Boar...

Natalie Cline talks to those who came to support her at the monthly meeting for the Utah State Board of Education, the first since the board voted to censure and strip Cline of her committee assignments, at the Utah State Board of Education in Salt Lake City on Thursday, March 7, 2024. | Megan Nielsen, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — State school board member Natalie Cline returned to her first regular board meeting Thursday after the board voted unanimously on Feb. 14 to censure her after she posted on social media a photo of a high school basketball player that implied the student is transgender captioned “Girls’ basketball…” The Facebook post has since been deleted.

On Feb. 15, the Utah Legislature took the unprecedented action of also publicly censuring Cline, opting not to impeach her. Legislative leaders, along with many state, county and locally elected officials leaders urged her to resign, but she recently announced she will remain in the race for reelection to the board’s District 9 seat, largely in southwest Salt Lake County.

Cline’s supporters packed the Utah State Board of Education meeting room with a dozen people speaking during the board’s public comment period. Some of them called Cline a “hero for Utah’s children” and “a lifeline for parents.” Some wore T-shirts printed with “I support Natalie Cline.”

Others criticized the board for voting unanimously to censure Cline and remove her from board committees. She can continue to attend board meetings and vote but some board critics called its actions an attack on her rights.

“You’ve attacked Natalie’s First Amendment right to free speech. You’re assuming the intent of her words. Do you realize how dangerous that is? She was condemned by you and many others in this state, in this country, which is disgusting by the way, for what you implied she meant by things she didn’t say,” said Tiffany Barker.

Tiffany Barker speaks during public comment in support of Natalie Cline at the monthly meeting for the Utah State Board of Education, the first since the board voted to censure and strip Cline of her committee assignments, at the Utah State Board of Education in Salt Lake City on Thursday, March 7, 2024.

Another speaker, Monica Wilbur, who is running as a Republican for the District 10 seat on the state board and a frequent defender of Cline, said Cline “has made great personal sacrifices to expose and stop” what Wilbur called “corrupt education agendas.”

“There are so many, many bad, un-American agendas hurting Utah’s kids happening at the state board. The transparency Natalie brings to the board’s corrupted agendas is invaluable to Utah’s families. It’s no wonder you grasp at any pretext to silence her. You want somebody to resign for wrongdoing, by all means, show us how it’s done,” Wilbur said.

In a statement, Cline expressed gratitude for the show of support.

“I am extremely grateful for so many good people in the state of Utah who are willing to stand up and speak out on these difficult issues in our schools that are hitting so close to home,” she wrote.

The statement continued, “I believe the outpouring of support for me today reflects just how much parents and teachers alike want and expect transparency and honesty from our education system, and want their elected officials to refocus their energy on protecting our children’s minds from policies, practices, programs and ideologies that harm or confuse children, that exploit their innocence and safety, and that negatively affect their education.”

Meanwhile, a supporter of the board’s action presented them with thank-you notes addressed to each board member and with doughnuts.

Natalie Cline attends the monthly meeting for the Utah State Board of Education, the first since the board voted to censure and strip Cline of her committee assignments, at the Utah State Board of Education in Salt Lake City on Thursday, March 7, 2024.

Powerful Utahns contributing to Cline’s challenger

While some 45 people showed up to support Cline on Thursday, contributions to her GOP challenger’s campaign outpace Cline’s by fourfold.

As of Thursday, campaign contributions to Amanda Bollinger, Cline’s Republican challenger in the District 9 race, exceeded $28,800. Campaign donors include Utah Gov. Spencer Cox, who contributed $5,000; Lt. Gov Deidre Henderson, who gave $1,000, and Rep. Ray Ward, R-Bountiful, and his spouse Beverly, who contributed $3,000.

The Education First Utah PAC, led by Gail Miller, Zions Bank President and CEO Scott Anderson and retired Questar CEO Ron Jibson, contributed $2,500 in January, according to disclosure forms.

Education First Utah executive director Jeff Stephens said the organization has since given Bollinger’s campaign another $2,500, not yet reflected on campaign disclosure forms.

Stephens said the organization has historically supported legislative candidates and is now contributing to candidates in state school board races, which are also partisan elections, although an occasional unaffiliated candidate runs.

“There is no litmus test. We want individuals in office who are reasonable, who are willing to listen to all sides of an issue, and then make a thoughtful decision. We don’t want someone who is sort of overridden by an ideology that prevents them from listening to all perspectives of an issue,” said Stephens.

The PAC has a vested interest in a robust public education system, he said.

Highly effective public schools help attract businesses to Utah, Stephens said.

“Of course the other side of that is they know that that’s their future workforce,” he said.

With that workforce pipeline in place, “business leaders know that there’s quality individuals that can step into relevant, high-paying jobs,” he said.

Cowboy Partners CEO president and former Granite school board member Dan Lofgren and FJ Companies CEO Crystal Maggalet, CEO and ChairwomanFJ Management, who as individuals, contributed $1,000 and $500, respectively. They are members of the organization’s steering committee.

As of Wednesday, Cline had $7,393.97 in campaign contributions, the bulk of it from Cathy Richardson of West Jordan, who contributed $3,000, and a $2,000 in-kind contribution from Monica Wilbur.

There are no campaign contributions to Democratic challenger Will Shiflett at this time, according to his latest disclosure statement.

Wilbur is challenging GOP incumbent Matthew Hymas, who has received a $5,000 campaign contribution from Education First Utah, as well as individual contributions from Maggalet, who gave $480.30 and Bob Marquardt, president of Management & Training Company, who contributed $1,000. Marquardt serves on Education First Utah’s executive committee.

Wilbur also received a $3,000 contribution from Cathy Richardson of West Jordan and $250 from Granite school board member Kim Chandler, who was the lone board member to vote against a school board resolution that rebuked Cline and called for her immediate resignation. The student-athlete in Cline’s post attends school in the Granite School District.

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Natalie Cline returns to state school board after it censured her