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‘Toxic’ social media posts put young lives at risk, Utah Pride Center chairman tells State School Board

Others express concerns about ‘vicious attack’ against Natalie Cline. Utah Senate Democratic Caucus, meanwhile, calls for accountability

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Facebook page of Utah State Board of Education member Natalie Cline.

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SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Senate Democratic Caucus spoke out Friday on recent statements by Utah State Board of Education member Natalie Cline, describing them as “misinformed and harmful rhetoric.”

“As an elected member of the Utah State Board of Education, Natalie Cline’s recent rhetoric is completely contrary to shared values about equal opportunity and inclusion that unify Utahns across the political spectrum.  

“Natalie Cline’s recent rhetoric is completely contrary to shared values about equal opportunity and inclusion that unify Utahns across the political spectrum.” — Utah Senate Democratic Caucus

“Students deserve a better advocate for their education. Students wrestling with gender identity deserve to be heard, not dismissed and disparaged. Students feeling marginalized because of their skin color or ethnic background deserve inclusion and compassion, not ignorance and denigration,” the statement said in part.

The recently announced Utah Compact on Racial Equity, Diversity and Inclusion “affirms our commitment to these values and should be heeded by all officials in positions of power within our great state.”

Cline’s privilege of serving as a State School Board member comes with significant responsibility, the caucus statement said, adding, “She should be held accountable for her words and actions.”

The Democratic lawmakers’ statement comes a day after the chairman of the Utah Pride Center called on Cline to remove controversial social media posts and apologize for them.

Chris Jensen, addressing the Utah State Board of Education Thursday, said Cline’s comments contribute to “the toxic narratives that put young LGBTQ-plus lives at risk.

“I’m also asking that Ms. Cline and the board accept the Utah Pride Center’s open invitation to come to the center and learn about what we do and how you can positively impact the lives of all students,” Jensen said.

Jensen referred to a series of posts on Cline’s Facebook page regarding the recent “Pride, not Prejudice: An LGBTQIA Conference for Utah Educators, Students and Caregivers” that was hosted by the Utah Pride Center.

“Learn more about what they are doing to indoctrinate your children here,” Cline wrote in one post regarding the conference, posting a now-deleted video.

“They are after your children’s hearts and minds ... the ‘whole’ child! Hear what their tactics and strategies are ... in their own words! This presentation will make you sick.”

As a public official, Cline’s primary responsibility is to ensure our schools are safe and welcoming to all students, Jensen said.

“Her recent comments are not only an abdication of her duties, but they also put queer students at risk of bullying, harassment and mental anguish. Let us not forget that Utah has the highest rate of youth suicide in the nation,” Jensen said.

But others who addressed the state board during the public comment segment of its agenda Thursday expressed concerns about the “vicious attack” on Cline.

Recently, an online petition called for Cline’s removal from the State School Board over her social media posts that the petition claims call for patrons to support “xenophobia, racism, homophobia and cultural regression.” Nearly 7,400 people have signed the petition.

“Natalie’s views are no different than many of Utah parents. I fear this attack could set a dangerous precedent where Utah school board members and parents are unable to have a dialogue about important topics or fear being similarly maligned and attacked,” said Deanna Holland, a mother of five children.

“I’m asking you as a board to stand up against this ideology (critical race theory) and the cancel culture it empowers and to please keep these programs out of our classrooms,” Holland said.

In recent weeks, Cline has also written Facebook posts warning parents of Jordan School District’s culture and diversity instruction in classrooms, urging parents to opt out their children from lessons, programs, activities or discussions on “cultural proficiency/competence/relevance, diversity, equity, inclusivity, privilege, White fragility, intersectionality, anti-racism, critical/crucial conversations (i.e. Critical Race Theory), etc.”

Cline represents District 11 on the State School Board and has held the elected office for just one month. She did not respond to a request for comment.

State School Board Vice Chairwoman Cindy Davis said in recent days board members’ inboxes “exploded asking us to remove a board member, then exploded again, asking us to retain said board member. ... We see you. We hear you but we have zero legal authority to do either.”

Davis made the comments during the “Board Member Message” portion of the agenda, which rotates monthly among the elected board’s 15 members,

She said she has reached out to people with various points of view to try to get a better understanding of their perspectives.

“I’m committed to continued learning,” she said.

Davis added, “Can we stop drowning in the circuitous communications that keep us from doing the heavy lifting for kids? Can we at least start to listen to each other out, the intent assumptions?”

Davis said she believes all board members want to eradicate racism, although they may have different opinions over how to go about it.

“I believe every member wants children to feel safe from bullying at school, no matter their race, gender, ability, religion, economic status or parents’ political persuasions,” Davis said.

Moreover, she said she believes every board member would give the shirt off their back to a child in need.

“We won’t be asked to give our shirts. We will be asked to give our focus. We will be asked to give our hearts and our heads in building bridges of understanding, and coalescing around the things we agree on, disagreeing rationally, and civilly and making policy progress for all children to access opportunities to become their individual best. No more distractions,” she said.

Meanwhile, Utah Education Association President Heidi Matthews lauded recent actions by the Utah State Board of Education supporting equity and inclusion for all students such as unanimously adopting a resolution that denounces racism and embraces equity as well as the addition of equity, diversity and inclusion specialists, among other innovations.

“These actions speak loudly to your intent to work together and ensure all students feel safe, accepted, and welcomed in our schools and are given equitable opportunities to succeed and thrive,” Matthews said.

Correction: An earlier version incorrectly said the Utah House Democratic Caucus addressed Natalie Cline’s remarks.The statement was from the Utah Senate Democratic Caucus.