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Millcreek Journal

Controversial Utah State School Board Member Natalie Cline loses GOP reelection bid

May 07, 2024 03:31PM ● By Lizzie Walje

Controversial Utah State School Board Member Natalie Cline was officially ousted from her seat after failing to secure a nomination from the Salt Lake County Republican Party. (Utah News Dispatch)

Natalie Cline, a controversial Utah State School Board Member who faced criticism as recently as last month, will no longer serve as a board member after being defeated by Amanda Bollinger at the Salt Lake County Republican Party Convention held April 13.

After receiving only 37% of the delegate vote, Cline was officially ousted as the Republican party’s nominee for the coveted school board seat. Instead, Amanda Bollinger emerged as the party’s choice, winning the vote of 211 delegates to Cline’s 123. 

Back in February, Cline came under fire after penning a controversial Facebook post that publicly questioned a Granite School District student’s gender identity. The post featured a photo of the student in her basketball uniform, under which Cline had captioned, “Girl’s Basketball….” falsely implying that the student in question was transgender. 

Almost immediately Cline received backlash. In fact, her post garnered so much traction that it even caught the attention of Gov. Spencer J. Cox and Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson after the story was picked up by multiple local and national news outlets. The politicians issued a rare joint statement condemning Cline for her “unconscionable” actions.

“We were stunned to learn of the unconscionable behavior of board member Cline and others toward a high school student today,” Cox and Henderson wrote at the time. “The last thing our children need is an elected official harassing them on social media.” 

Cline initially backpedaled, removing the post before issuing an apology, stating, “My deepest apologies for the negative attention my post drew to innocent students and their families.”

However, the apology itself elicited even further criticism after many felt Cline was evading accountability by writing that she “never claimed the student was a boy.” But that “[The student] does have a larger build like her parents. We live in strange times where it is normal to pause and wonder if people are what they say they are because of the push to normalize transgenderism in our country.”

Cline is referring to an ongoing debate centralized on the validity of transgenderism in America, that has proved to be a divisive topic dominating the cultural zeitgeist during recent years. Nevertheless, despite conflicting political affiliations and viewpoints, it appeared that most people on both sides of the aisle found Cline’s behavior reprehensible. Not only did her post propagate dangerous misinformation, but it also resulted in a major breach of the student’s privacy, leading the student to request police protection. 

Amid the controversy, the student in question has, understandably, remained silent. However, the student’s parents have spoken out on her behalf. 

“To look at someone’s outer appearance and make an assumption that they’re either playing in the right arena or not, based on how someone looks I don’t think is appropriate,” the girl’s mother, Rachel van der Beek, told KSL. “It just broke our hearts that we needed to have this conversation with our daughter.”

The student’s father, Al van der Beek, chose to draw attention to the dangers of cyberbullying, which often results in devastating consequences for its victims. While fortunately, the student has predominantly received an outpouring of support, oftentimes the outcome is tragic. Al van der Beek further explained that for many kids the “worst case scenario” has permanent, catastrophic consequences, as many teenagers who have faced pervasive cyberbullying have taken their own lives in the aftermath.

“What if our daughter didn’t have that strong character and have our support, and community support to where she internalized this?” Al van der Beek said. 

Cline leaves behind a legacy that is contentious to say the least. First appointed in 2020, Cline would quickly find herself embroiled in controversy mere months after her induction when she took to her Facebook page in early 2021 to criticize educators who had attended a conference held by the Utah Pride Center. Cline claimed that students who identified as LGBTQ+ were simply “gender confused” and that educators who attended the aforementioned conference were being taught how to “indoctrinate children.”

Next, Cline shifted her focus to issues of race, firstly calling out Black Lives Matter, for also using “indoctrination” tactics. She then criticized the inclusion of critical race theory in school curriculum by labeling it “inherently biased” as it teaches white children that they are “always wrong.” 

These Facebook posts and comments, amongst others, prompted over 49 formal complaints to be lodged against Cline resulting in three separate investigations that were conducted by the Utah State Board of Education. Ultimately, while they advised Cline and others to be mindful of what they post online, they ruled in favor of “free speech.”

While it’s no secret that many people oppose Cline and the beliefs that she upholds, there does exist a cohort of individuals who applaud her actions, framing her as someone who is just being honest and candid. For instance, when the post questioning the female student-athlete first went live, it was met with praise from early commentators. 

Following the incident earlier this year, Cline was still vocal about her intentions to run for reelection. In the face of numerous calls to resign, Cline doubled down and proclaimed that she would not be pressured into abdication. Nevertheless, when it became clear at the April 13 convention that she was not going to receive enough votes, she proceeded to rush out of the auditorium at Cottonwood High School where the event was held.

As Cline exited the auditorium, her challenger, Amanda Bollinger quietly embraced family members. When her nomination was then formally announced, she addressed the press who questioned her about her thoughts on the evening’s outcome.

“Parents and our delegates, they’re making a statement. Our goal is to protect our children and that we want to make sure they are safe in schools and those of us who are leaders are also prioritizing the safety of our children,” she said.

A career educator, school administrator and coach, Bollinger has served students for many years in a multitude of roles. She looks forward to rebuilding trust within the district, telling the press: “[The outcome of the vote] makes me feel like all things happen for a reason, that it is time for me to serve our state. [This outcome means] that people care about kids, and it means people are willing to trust me to put the trust of education back in the system.” λ