Natalie Cline, a Republican running for reelection to the Utah State Board of Education, was rebuked by Utah Gov. Spencer Cox, civil rights groups, a school district and Republican and Democratic lawmakers on Wednesday for a social media post that targeted a high school student athlete.
The now-deleted post depicted members of a girls basketball team with the heading “Girls basketball...,” which community organizer Darlene McDonald said “was to imply that one the players is not a ‘girl.’ ”
Cox and Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson released the following joint statement late Wednesday:
“We were stunned to learn of the unconscionable behavior of board member Cline and others toward a high school student today. The last thing our children need is an elected official harassing them on social media. Sadly, this is not the first time that board member Cline has embarrassed the state of Utah and State Board of Education. We urge the State Board of Education to hold her accountable and we commend Granite School District for taking swift action to protect this student’s safety and well-being.”
Late Wednesday, Cline issued a statement that said in part, “My original post (now deleted) never claimed the student was a boy.” In the statement, she apologized to the girl and her parents. She did not respond to requests for comment.
A statement by Equality Utah said Cline apologized and deleted the post “only after facing public outrage. Utahns must demand greater accountability of her.”
If Cline “does not show the decency to resign, we call on Utah voters to protect Utah’s children and deny her a second term this November.”
Others, such as Rep. Andrew Stoddard, D-Sandy, posted that “at a minimum, her constituents need to replace her this coming election. The more appropriate thing is for her to resign immediately.”
Amanda Bollinger, also running for the District 9 state school board seat as a Republican, said she was “saddened and heartbroken to hear that a Utah student’s privacy and safety have been compromised. Our students deserve to have their safety, privacy and well-being be the top priority in our education system. I trust our school leaders to uphold current rules and laws when it comes to participation in sports.”
Bollinger said she is running for the state school board “because I can no longer be a part of the silent majority and want to be part of the solution to unite students, parents, educators, educational leaders, and policymakers to focus on what is best for kids.”
Will Shiflett, Democratic candidate for the District 9 seat, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Rep. Kera Birkeland, R-Morgan, also took exception to the post, writing on social media, “It is not brave or responsible to attack someone based on their outward appearance, especially when it’s a child. It’s horrible.
“A post was made to stir up controversy over a GIRL that plays basketball. She’s a child and if she was my child, I’d be talking to an attorney right now,” the post from Birkeland said in part.
Riverton City Councilman Andy Pierucci tweeted that he was “absolutely disgusted by the post from my State School Board member today, where she inferred a girl on a high school basketball team was not actually a girl. Several of the subsequent comments by adults were horrible examples of bullying and absolutely inappropriate.
“It should go without saying, but crap like this is not OK. It’s cruel. We should expect better of all people, especially those we chose to represent us. As an elected official who lives (in) State School Board District 9, I’ll be looking to support a candidate who puts kids first.”
Meanwhile, Granite School District issued this statement:
“Granite School District is aware of a social media post made by Utah State (School) Board Member Natalie Cline. We have significant concerns with the apparent intent of board member Cline’s post and are working to ensure the safety and wellbeing of this student. We are also taking additional precautions for the safety and security of the school as the comments on the post indicated the potential for a significant disruption to the educational and extracurricular activities associated with this campus.”
The Utah Board of Education had no comment at this time, said Kelsey James, the board’s spokeswoman.
“USBE follows the guidelines provided in Board Policy 2005 and board bylaws if a complaint is reported concerning a board member,” she said.
In September 2021, leaders of the Utah State Board of Education reprimanded Cline for social media posts that they said “incited hate speech” and resulted in Davis School District hiring additional security to patrol the Layton High School campus “to discourage potential violence.”