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Education

State Education Board Member At Odds With Educators Over Equity And Inclusion

A photo of a empty classroom.
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Utah State Board of Education member Natalie Cline’s social media posts have raised concerns several times, pointing to a fundamental divide between her and educators.

As debates around race and gender issues in schools continue to rage in Utah and across the country, one member of the state’s Board of Education has been at the center of the criticism.

Natalie Cline, who represents a portion of West Jordan down to Fairfield, has been outspoken in her opposition to the ways schools’ are trying to create more inclusive environments and bridge equity gaps.

Earlier this week, the state board distanced itself from a recent social media post in which she shared a photo from Layton High School’s seminary displaying a pride flag. The slide read, “If you are LGBTQIA+ Welcome to Seminary!” Cline wrote it was “time to make some calls.”

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In the since-deleted post, Cline identified the Layton High seminary as displaying a welcome to LGBTQIA+ students. One commenter wrote it’s “Time to get our muskets.”

In a statement, board leadership said they were reviewing the recent post for potential violations, noting Cline did not specify she was speaking as a private citizen rather than as a representative of the board. They said they don’t condone rhetoric in opposition to the board’s resolution on racism and equity in schools or that inspires hate speech against students.

It’s not the first time Cline’s posts have raised concerns, though they point to a fundamental and seemingly insurmountable divide between her and educators.

While many teachers and administrators have been increasing efforts to address inequalities in schools, Cline and many parents argue they’re instead creating divisions.

“My concern is that in welcoming one group of students, you are disenfranchising the others,” Cline told KUER, referencing her post calling out the use of the pride flag. “I talk to people all the time that feel like they don't matter anymore unless they are a person of color or LGBTQ.”

She said her recent post was not intended as a public statement, which is why she chose to leave out context she otherwise would’ve included, as well as a disclaimer noting she was not speaking on behalf of the board. Because of that, she said, it was misinterpreted.

She said she learned from an incident in March, in which she called out a teacher by name for promoting communism. The district said the allegations weren’t true. But Cline said she has a right to speak out against what she feels is an activist agenda in schools and efforts to silence her are wrong.

“We're sending our kids to school to learn reading, writing, math and not to have this agenda of sexuality forced on our kids day in and day out,” she said.

For teachers on the other side of the debate, however, schools have long been a place where students who aren’t in the majority feel alienated, such as students of color or queer students. That makes it harder for them to learn, said Allison Riddle, Utah’s 2014 Teacher of the Year and current elementary mentor supervisor in the Davis School District.

She said it’s also why more teachers have begun to take a more deliberate approach to making kids feel represented in the classroom, with books and posters featuring kids from different backgrounds.

“This is incredibly important that a teacher displays these kinds of things so that these kids become globally competent citizens,” Riddle said. “They can solve problems and communicate really well with people from all backgrounds. That's what we're teaching and modeling for kids.”

The differing viewpoints are at odds, but one thing both Riddle and Cline advocate for is more parental involvement in their kids’ education. Cline said parents should be able to find out and consent to what their kids are learning. Riddle said she’d like parents to have a better understanding of what happens in the classroom.

“It seems to me that anger is usually based on fear and these parents are afraid of what they're hearing,” Riddle said. “What I would hope is that the parents that have complaints or concerns really take the time to go in and observe in classrooms to really, truly be boots on the ground and see what we do day to day.”

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