Utah school board to secretly discuss Natalie Cline, potential discipline this week

The Wednesday meeting will be held in a closed session.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah State Board of Education member Natalie Cline on Thursday, August 3, 2023. USBE will meet Wednesday to secretly discuss taking potential disciplinary action against Cline.

The Utah State Board of Education will meet Wednesday to secretly discuss taking potential disciplinary action against board member Natalie Cline, who questioned a high school athlete’s gender in a since-deleted Facebook post last week that caused a social media uproar and prompted formal condemnation from state lawmakers and local leaders alike.

The special meeting will begin at 3 p.m. and will be held in a closed session, meaning discussion will happen in private. Any potential action taken against Cline regarding her “character and professional competence,” however, would be voted on before the public, according to an agenda published Tuesday afternoon.

Utah’s Open and Public Meetings Act allows governing bodies to close a meeting to discuss the character, professional competence or physical or mental health of an individual, but it is not mandatory.

The Utah Media Coalition in a letter Monday urged state school board members to hold any such meeting about Cline publicly.

“Closed-door proceedings in matters such as this benefit no one,” the letter stated. “For the sake of the Board’s credibility and the public accountability necessary for the Board to maintain its role as a trusted steward of this state’s education system, we urge the Board to conduct all such proceedings in public.”

The letter also argued that Cline, by her own “voluntary” conduct, has caused the issue to become a public matter.

“The conduct of an elected official toward students she has been elected to serve goes to the core of whether Ms. Cline is properly discharging the duties of her public office or abusing the platform voters have given her,” the letter stated. “Likewise, the Board of Education’s response to that conduct and its potential discipline of Ms. Cline are matters of significant public interest that reflect directly on whether the Board is fulfilling its constitutional and statutory obligations to students.”

What could Cline face?

The planned meeting comes after Gov. Spencer Cox and Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson last week issued a rare joint statement following Cline’s Facebook post. Together, they said Cline had “embarrassed the state,” and they called on the state school board’s leadership “to hold her accountable.”

The state school board responded with a statement condemning Cline’s actions and promising to take “prompt action regarding this matter.”

According to the board’s bylaws, members like Cline may face disciplinary action for any violation of law, policy or bylaws, or any other conduct “which tends to injure the good name of the board.” This includes actions that disrespect students’ privacy by identifying them and casting them in “a negative light in any public setting, venue or platform.”

But the board’s leadership has “no power or authority to unseat an elected official,” its statement last week noted. Board leadership also do not have the authority to impeach a member. Lawmakers are currently exploring impeachment but as of Tuesday had not taken any formal steps.

Members of the board can, however, be censured, or the board can vote to formally disapprove of Cline’s comments.

Board leadership in fall 2021 chose to issue a letter of reprimand to Cline after she posted a separate message critical of LGBTQ students that led some of her followers to threaten violence. The board distanced itself from her words in the letter, which marked the first time a state school board member has ever been disciplined.

[Read more: 3 years of controversy, complaints preceded latest public outcry against Natalie Cline]

USBE could also decide to limit Cline’s role on the state school board as discipline. Such limitations include: prohibiting her from attending advisory committee meetings; prohibiting her from requesting agenda items; and removing her from any or all committee assignments.

The board can also require that Cline meet and speak with board leadership, as well as with the assistant attorney general.

As of Tuesday afternoon, the agenda for the special Wednesday meeting did not note any scheduled public comment period regarding Cline.

USBE plans to livestream the public portion of the meeting on its YouTube channel at the scheduled start time. The public may also attend in person at the USBE building located at 250 E. 500 South in Salt Lake City.

Cline’s post draws complaints, condemnation

As of Feb. 8, the board had received at least 180 complaints about Cline’s post, according to its records officer.

The post was originally shared to Cline’s public Facebook page. In it, Cline shared a flyer for a high school girls’ basketball team in Salt Lake County with the caption “Girls’ basketball” — implying that one of the players was not female and suggesting she shouldn’t be able to play.

The student in Cline’s post is not transgender. In response to Cline’s post, many of Cline’s followers left offensive and threatening comments about the student, personally identifying her and her school.

Cline later removed the post and apologized, but Granite School District has 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 Granite School District’s local board of education passed a resolution Friday condemning Cline’s behavior and demanding her immediate resignation.

It was one of several formal condemnations regarding Cline. The Salt Lake City Council on Tuesday issued a statement calling for her to resign, adding that it “unequivocally” condemns her “deeply troubling” actions.

“As public officials, it is our duty to prioritize the safety and well-being of all individuals, particularly vulnerable youth who are entrusted to our care,” the statement continued.

The Midvale City Council shared equally strong sentiments in a public letter addressed to Cline on Friday. The city falls within the boundaries of Cline’s voting district.

“Your behavior clearly shows you are incapable of fulfilling your duty when it leads directly to subjecting a student to cyberbullying and public criticism,” the letter reads. “It contradicts the values that we, as a community, stand for.”

The Midvale letter called for Cline to resign immediately. “This action is deemed necessary to restore public trust in our educational institutions,” it continued.

The Canyons School District’s local board of education also called for a special Tuesday meeting, where board members plan to discuss adopting the same resolution against Cline that Granite’s board passed. Canyons serves some Midvale students.

The Murray School District’s board also planned to convene a special meeting Thursday with the possibility of taking similar action.

And local board members for the Jordan School District, where a portion of students within Cline’s voting district live, will also discuss a potential resolution against Cline during a study session Tuesday evening.