Utah community rallies in support of targeted student-athlete as district calls for state board member Natalie Cline to resign

In a show of solidarity, more than 100 people filled the room as Granite School District’s board of education criticized Cline and “anyone who would bully or target any student for any reason.”

Rachel van der Beek has broken down in tears twice this week.

The first time, the mom said, was when she saw the Facebook post from Utah State Board of Education member Natalie Cline, who had publicly shared a photo of van der Beek’s daughter in her high school basketball uniform and raised questions about the girl’s gender. Van der Beek cried at the painful and taunting comments left by Cline’s followers.

The second time came Friday evening as van der Beek watched more than 100 people fill every seat of a board room, sharing in her hurt and standing in solidarity with her family, as their school district voted on a resolution to condemn Cline’s actions. Being surrounded by friends, neighbors, her daughter’s teammates and teachers, she said, reminded her that the community cares about her teenager, whom she still calls her “baby girl.”

“It’s all overwhelming, and you just never think it’s going to be your kid,” van der Beek said afterward.

Van der Beek and her husband, Al, who agreed to the use of their names in this story, sat near the back of the room Friday when Granite School District’s local board of education called a special meeting to issue a rebuke against the Republican state school board member, condemning Cline for her comments about the student-athlete.

The van der Beeks’ daughter is a minor and a student in the district. The Salt Lake Tribune is not naming her or her school to protect her identity, as requested by her parents. But several in the audience wore her school colors and T-shirts and hats with the school’s mascot in a massive show of support for the girl.

Several waved little flags for the student, while others held up anti-Cline signs, a show of the two competing emotions of the night. One attendee noted, “You hire a clown and you get a circus.”

In a rare move, the Granite board’s statement called on all school boards and elected officials in the state to join in addressing Cline’s conduct and demanding she immediately resign.

Granite school board President Nicole McDermott read the resolution out: “We condemn anyone who would bully or target any student for any reason, but especially those in positions of power who are specifically elected to represent and protect our children. … That such behavior is cowardly, harmful and unacceptable.”

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) The Granite School District's board passes a resolution against the actions of Natalie Cline and in support of its student athlete during a meeting in South Salt Lake on Friday, Feb. 9, 2024. From left are Kris Nguyen, Nicole McDermott and Rich Nye.

When the board voted to pass the measure, on a 6-1 count, members of the audience shot to their feet, clapping and cheering.

Granite School District’s superintendent has also filed a formal complaint with the Utah State Board of Education about Cline’s behavior in singling out the district’s student. The state board received more than 180 complaints in the first 24 hours after Cline posted online Tuesday night.

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She later apologized and deleted the post, but also continued to maintain her position that the girl “does have a larger build than most” which led her to be suspicious that she might be transgender and not allowed to play for the girls’ team. She is not transgender.

Because of the threats the post spurred, Granite School District said it needed to provide additional security for the student-athlete.

Leaders from around the state have criticized Cline for attacking a student. Gov. Spencer Cox and Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson said Cline has “embarrassed the state.” Members of the Utah House are now considering impeaching her and have taken the first step in the process.

Rep. Joel Briscoe, D-Salt Lake City, who is a teacher, joined the crowd of mostly educators Friday night; he appeared to be the only lawmaker there. Matt Hymas, a member of the Utah State Board of Education who serves with Cline, also attended.

The Utah State Board of Education’s leaders have promised they’ll take “prompt action” against Cline, likely a letter of reprimand or a censure (they have no authority to unseat her). Cline has come under fire several times since she was elected in 2020, and the board’s leadership has issued five statements in that time distancing itself from her behavior. She did not respond to a request for comment from The Tribune on Friday night.

One member of the Granite board, though, voted against the resolution criticizing Cline. Kim Chandler said she it felt like it was “asking us to convict someone and condemn without due process.”

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Kim Chandler reads a statement in opposition before the Granite School District's board passed a resolution against the actions of Natalie Cline and in support of its student athlete during a meeting in South Salt Lake on Friday, Feb. 9, 2024.

Chandler said she is “deeply sorry for the student affected here” but also worried the statement — made in front of a line of TV news station cameras filling one side of the board meeting room — “makes more of a spectacle of our student for a longer time.”

McDermott quickly challenged that, saying: “The gravity of this incident compels us to act.”

Chandler and the board president were the only members of the Granite body to speak publicly Friday. Another wore a shirt that said, “Every child needs a champion.”

“No child should be subjected to cruel and hateful threats,” McDermott echoed. “We want all of our students to feel supported and assured that we stand beside them.”

Rachel van der Beek said her family appreciated the resolution and said Cline stepping down would be “a step in the right direction.”

“It’s a way of her taking ownership of what she did and realizing there’s a consequence,” the mom said.

But van der Beek said she and her husband harbor no hate or animosity toward Cline, even with the turmoil and unwanted attention the school board member has thrown her family into this week.

“What she did was 100% wrong, and I don’t support that. But I don’t know her,” van der Beek said. “So let’s just love a little bit more.”

The mom said many parents have reached out to her in the fallout of the past few days, sharing stories of when their kids have been bullied, too, for looking different. One mom, van der Beek said, told her that after her husband died her daughter wore his clothes to school to remember him; the girl was harassed for looking too masculine.

Van der Beek said the situation this week has led her and her husband to want to be advocates for kids, like their daughter, and others “who don’t have a voice so they can be who they are and know they have a support system.”

The mom said her daughter hates the attention and is “just trying to be a normal kid.” But it’s hurt her to have her body judged and picked apart by adults.

“She’s hanging in there,” van der Beek said. “But she feels like she can’t be herself in her own skin.”

The rally from the community at the board meeting Friday, she hopes, will show her daughter that she’s loved as she is.

“I feel like that’s what we’re trying to encourage our kids to do, is figure out who they are and live their own authentic lives,” van der Beek said. “We want to encourage her to be that. I hope this doesn’t make her feel like she has to fit in some kind of box or be a certain way.”

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Attendees stand and applaud after the Granite School District's board passed a resolution against the actions of Natalie Cline and in support of its student athlete during a meeting in South Salt Lake on Friday, Feb. 9, 2024.