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Utah State Board of Ed won’t require disclaimers on board member social media anymore

Utah State Board of Education member Natalie Cline during the board’s Aug. 3, 2023 board meeting in Salt Lake City. Cline was elected in 2020 and is in her first term.
Martha Harris
Utah State Board of Education member Natalie Cline during the board’s Aug. 3, 2023 board meeting in Salt Lake City. Cline was elected in 2020 and is in her first term.

The Utah State Board of Education voted during its Aug. 3 meeting to no longer require its members to put disclaimers on posts from their personal social media accounts. Now, when a board member shares their thoughts online, they do not need to specify that they are only speaking for themselves and do not represent the full board.

This decision comes a few weeks after board leadership distanced themselves from statements made by one of its members, Natalie Cline, on social media.

Board spokesperson Kelsey James confirmed that the requirement was added to the board’s bylaws about two years ago in response to previous controversies surrounding Cline’s social media posts.

The board started discussing doing away with the disclaimer requirement a few months ago.

In discussions during the Aug. 3 meeting, some board members said the disclaimers were unnecessary, poorly tracked and that other elected officials, like state legislators, don’t put similar language on their social media posts.

Cline and some other board members viewed the disclaimer as violating their constitutional rights.

“Boy, I just am starting to understand what it feels like to live in a communist country and why those people become very stoic, very quiet, not open people because they don’t know who they can trust. They’re afraid that they’re going to get in trouble for anything they might say or do because they are not free. And we are quickly turning to something very un-American,” Cline said.

Cline said board members are held accountable for what they say at the polls and if people don’t like it, they’ll just vote them out of office. She added that elected officials should be able to freely share their thoughts so people know what candidates stand for.

Member Jennie Earl called the disclaimer “compelled speech” and said it has discouraged her from posting on social media. She said board members are adults who don’t need to be babysitting each other.

“The fact that you’re forced to put something on it in order to speak as a public official, to me, is chilling,” Earl said.

Member Cindy Davis voted against getting rid of the disclaimer, saying it promoted transparency and did not regulate speech.

The board voted 10-5 in favor of getting rid of the disclaimer requirement from the board’s bylaws. The board’s bylaws still require its members to post and comment on social media in an “ethical and civil manner.”

The recent investigation into Cline was spurred by multiple complaints from community members and educators, including about Cline’s July 4 Facebook post that said: “Schools are not only complicit in the grooming of children for sex trafficking, but they are aiding and abetting this evil practice by giving kids easy access to explicit, unnatural, and twisted sexual content and brainwashing them into queer, gender bending ideologies.”

At the top of Cline’s July 4 post, like on most of her social media posts, it read “[Not official USBE Board position].”

Board leadership sent out a statement on July 13 distancing itself from Cline’s claims. They did not name Cline directly, but said they strongly disapproved of the post and that the allegations against schools were “inflammatory, divisive and unfair to Utah’s teachers.” Leadership also condemned “harassment or discrimination against teachers or students on the basis of sexual orientation.”

James said while she could not confirm what else the board was looking at besides the July 4 social media post, the investigation focused on three topics and two were referred to board leadership for further action.

James said on Aug. 4 that the board has concluded its investigation into Cline and a statement is forthcoming.

Between November 2021 and July 2023, the board received 87 complaints regarding Cline, including her social media presence and calling out individual educators online.

In September 2021, the board formally reprimanded Cline after she posted a photo of a LGBTQ+ pride flag inside Layton High School’s seminary building and wrote, “time to make some phone calls. The world is too much with us.” The letter from board leadership said her rhetoric incited hate speech and threats. It also said Cline’s words caused the Davis School District to hire additional security to discourage potential violence.

While the board did not publicly discuss its investigation into Cline during its Thursday meeting, a crowd of community members and educators showed up to the board’s public comment period to weigh in on her comments.

Cline supporters wore T-shirts that read “#FamiliesAgainstGrooming” and “#WeStandWithNatalie.” Some called her a hero and said the board should be investigating the allegations Cline has made against schools instead of investigating her.

Willie Johnson, who said he also goes by “Gandalf,” said Cline was being “persecuted” and said the school board needed to do more to keep sexual content out of schools.

“For all of you people on this board who have persecuted Mrs. Cline for trying to protect the children of this state, I have one thing to say to you: Lucifer, in the name of Jesus Christ, I command you to come out of them,” Johnson said.

Two educators spoke opposing the multiple comments Cline has previously made online and how those comments have negatively affected teachers.

“What we need is genuine support from the Utah State Board of Education. Not a biased criticism, nor the persistent harassment stemming from inaccurate statements that have been made by Natalie Cline,” Rio Polidori, a career and technical education teacher, said.

Martha is KUER’s education reporter.
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