Natalie Cline cyberbullied and harassed a student, USBE investigation found

The Utah State Board of Education details findings from an internal investigation into Natalie Cline.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah school board member Natalie Cline speaks during a Jordan School District board meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2023. The Utah State Board of Education this week publicly released findings from an internal investigation into Cline.

Utah school board member Natalie Cline engaged in “cyberbullying” and “harassment” of a student when she questioned a high school athlete’s gender in a since-deleted Facebook post, according to a formal censure resolution that the Utah State Board of Education publicly released this week.

Board leadership in a special meeting Wednesday evening unanimously approved Cline’s censure and requested that she immediately resign, marking a historical first for the board. The rare disciplinary move came after Cline’s post ignited a social media firestorm, drawing swift condemnation from state lawmakers and local leaders alike.

The censure resolution states an internal investigation found that Cline violated administrative code, board bylaws and board policy in 11 ways and that the board formally disapproves of her conduct.

On Feb. 6, Cline posted a flyer for a high school girls’ basketball team in Salt Lake County to her public Facebook page 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 said it had to provide security for the student because of the responses. The Salt Lake Tribune is not identifying her school to protect her identity.

Violation details

USBE’s censure resolution describes Cline’s post as “defamatory” and states that it resulted in the “humiliation” and “harassment” of the student and her family. It notes that Cline “allowed” the post and negative comments to remain on Facebook for at least 11 hours before removing it and issuing an apology, amounting to “cyberbullying.”

Her actions violated administrative rules that require educators and state board members to protect students’ physical and mental health; refrain from sexual or emotional harassment of school-aged children; refrain from discrimination based on sex; and treat students with dignity and respect.

The censure resolution further states that Cline caused a “substantial risk of harm in her communication to the public, the student, USBE members, USBE staff and herself.”

That violated several board policies and bylaws that forbid board members from communicating in ways that could expose the board to legal liability, that spread misinformation, or that “incite or endorse violence,” the document reads.

The censure resolution also states that Cline’s post disrupted the student’s high school, USBE and the Granite School District.

[Read the full censure resolution below. Story continues after document.]

Will Cline resign?

The investigation that led to the censure resolution was conducted by USBE’s internal audit department and the assistant attorney general, USBE said in a statement late Wednesday.

It was initiated after Cline’s Feb. 6 post about the student prompted numerous complaints to USBE’s public education hotline. By Feb. 8, the board had received at least 180 complaints, according to the board’s records officer.

Cline did not participate in the special USBE meeting Wednesday, arguing in a letter to board members, which she posted to her Facebook profile, that the board’s process was rushed and said it “will have the effect of depriving me my due process rights.”

The censure resolution released after the Wednesday meeting stated that Cline has over three years of experience serving on the board and is aware of the “processes and procedures put in place to address public complaints and questions.”

“Cline was offered the opportunity to address the Board and respond or explain her concerns regarding the Board’s/Board Leadership’s reaction and communications to her February 2024 social media posts,” the censure resolution states.

If Cline does not resign, she will no longer be allowed to place items on USBE agendas, participate or hold roles in any standing committees or attend advisory committees — effectively stripping her of her power as a board member, according to the board’s decision.

It’s an exercise of their full disciplinary powers as a board, as board leaders do not have the authority to remove or impeach a member.

Board leadership has disciplined Cline once before, in fall 2021, when they chose to issue Cline a letter of reprimand after she posted another message critical of LGBTQ students that led some of her followers to threaten violence. At the time, the board in its letter distanced itself from her words, marking the first time a state school board member had ever been disciplined.

Utah lawmakers on Thursday also voted to censure Cline, calling her actions “abhorrent” in their resolution.

“Now, therefore,” the resolution reads, “be it resolved that the Legislature of the state of Utah, the Governor concurring therein, condemns and denounces board member Cline’s repugnant attack on a student in the strongest possible terms and finds such behavior irreconcilable with the responsibilities of a Utah State Board of Education member.”

As of Friday morning, USBE officials said that they had not received any communication from Cline regarding a decision to resign. They added that there is no formal resignation process in place or a time frame required for a board member to decide on a such a request, as this marks the first time the board has dealt with such a situation.

“Any communication regarding her decision of whether or not to resign will likely come from her,” a USBE spokesperson said.

But in emails shared with The Salt Lake Tribune, Cline had signaled to state Republican leaders that she has no intention of resigning.

“I sent [House] Speaker [Mike] Schultz a message on Monday telling him I have no plans to resign and will run for reelection,” Cline said in a Thursday email sent to the Utah Republican Party’s State Central Committee and obtained by The Tribune.

Cline did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Tribune about the board’s request that she resign, as well as her censure. As of Friday afternoon, she had not issued a public response.

Correction • March 1, 11:30 a.m. This story has been updated to accurately reflect the findings outlined in the Utah State Board of Education’s censure resolution.