Utah school board promises ‘prompt action’ against Natalie Cline — the Legislature eyes impeachment

The board’s leadership noted, though, that it has “no power or authority to unseat an elected official.”

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah State Board of Education member Natalie Cline, District 9, Thursday, August 3, 2023. Cline has come under fire for a post from Tuesday, Feb. 8, 2024, where she shared photos of a high school athlete and raised questions about the student's gender.

Leaders of the Utah State Board of Education promised to take “prompt action” against member Natalie Cline after her controversial post in which she shared photos of a high school athlete to raise questions about the minor’s gender. And state lawmakers are weighing measures of their own — including impeachment.

So far, the board has received at least 180 complaints about her post, according to its records officer. In a statement Thursday, the board’s leadership said it is “concerned” about what the outspoken Republican said and the harm it has caused to students and their families.

“We are deeply saddened by the events that have taken place,” the statement says, “and will be taking prompt action regarding this matter as determined by the full board.”

Utah’s governor and lieutenant governor had called on the board’s leadership Wednesday to reprimand Cline.

The board’s leadership reiterated, though, that it has “no power or authority to unseat an elected official.”

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Senate President Stuart Adams, R-Layton, makes a comment during the Senate Leadership news conference, at the Capitol, on Thursday, Feb. 8, 2024.

Speaking to reporters Thursday, Senate President Stuart Adams said Cline’s actions were “reprehensible” and that lawmakers were “looking at all options” to address them.

In a statement sent later that evening, the House majority echoed that sentiment, writing in a statement, “Making thoughtless and baseless claims to harass a child is unacceptable and inexcusable. We are considering all available options within our constitutional authority moving forward.”

[Read more: Utah school board member Natalie Cline questions high school athlete’s gender, causing social media uproar]

Draper Republican Sen. Kirk Cullimore, who is an attorney, said according to his analysis, the Legislature has the authority to impeach Cline. While he thinks impeachment is one of the options lawmakers should consider, he isn’t sure whether that’s the right move.

“Anytime you’re dealing with impeachment, now it’s a legal matter,” Cullimore told reporters. “And so does this rise to the level of an ethics violation that would warrant that? Because I would be wary about moving forward with impeachment on anybody just because of the political lens of the day.”

In a separate statement, Utah Senate Democrats said they are working with legal counsel to initiate impeachment proceedings against Cline.

Senate leadership did not give a timeline for potential action against Cline. Majority Leader Evan Vickers said possible legislative responses could be discussed in Thursday’s Republican caucus meeting, but that the agenda was already full.

“We’re going to take all of the information, we’re going to look at what we have the ability to do, we’re going to process it, and as we process it, we’ll come out and we’ll let you know the direction we’re going,” Adams said.

“I think there are pieces in our statute that will protect this student from being a victim of cyberbullying,” Senate Minority Leader Luz Escamilla said to reporters, referring to a bill she ran in 2014 that prohibits public education employees from “cyber-bullying a ... student at any time or in any location.”

That statute does not include criminal charges for such behavior.

Sen. Kathleen Riebe, D-Cottonwood Heights, has proposed amendments to HB14, legislation that would increase the penalties for someone who threatens a school, including in a hoax. Riebe’s additions would add the potential for misdemeanor charges for someone who threatens a student, including by suggesting that student is transgender.

Currently, the Utah Board of Education only has the authority to censure its members, or vote to formally disapprove of her comments. It would have to meet in a closed executive session to do so.

The board’s leaders noted that in their statement, saying: “If the full board determines discipline is warranted, board bylaws provide guidelines for additional action.”

The board has once chosen to issue a letter of reprimand to Cline, in fall 2021, marking the first time a state school board member has ever been disciplined. That came after Cline posted another message critical of LGBTQ students that led some of her followers to threaten violence.

In her latest post to draw controversy, Cline originally shared on Tuesday night a flyer for a high school girls’ basketball team in Salt Lake County. On her public Facebook page, she wrote “Girls’ basketball” — implying that one of the players was not female and suggesting she shouldn’t be able to play.

That incited anger among her followers, many of whom responded in the comments, threatening the girl, calling her vulgar names and identifying her and her school. Granite School District said it has had to provide security for the student because of the responses. The Salt Lake Tribune is not identifying her school to protect her identity.

The girl is not transgender, according to Equality Utah. Cline later acknowledged that after deleting the post and sharing an apology.

Cline did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Thursday.