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SALT LAKE CITY — An online petition is calling for the removal of recently elected State School Board member Natalie Cline over her social media posts that the petition claims call for patrons to support "xenophobia, racism, homophobia and cultural regression."
Cline, who represents District 11 on the Utah State Board of Education, was sworn into office Jan. 6 after her election to the board seat in November.
The MoveOn.org petition, signed by more than 3,200 people, says Cline "promotes discriminatory and unethical rhetoric to the public and fights to promote her rhetoric within District 11's School Board of Education."
In recent weeks, Cline has 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."
Jordan School District spokeswoman Sandy Riesgraf said Monday that the school district has invited Cline to meet with them to "so we can explain to her what we're doing and have a better understanding of what questions she may have, but she has not responded to our invitation."
Cline did not immediately return a phone message or an email seeking her comment.
Cline posted this on her personal Facebook account about the petition:
"I am the latest target of the mob. If you disagree with this attack on me, please write the state school board members to tell them you stand with me and with a parent's right to know and choose what is okay and not okay for their child to be taught in their classrooms. Let them know that parents want neutral academics taught in class, not social engineering and indoctrination.
"Let them know that because there is so very much controversy in society surrounding these very issues that that is all the more reason to leave the teaching of values, beliefs, and dispositions to the parents — not teachers. Let them know you want complete transparency and access to what is being taught to your child. Remind them that the Utah Constitution confirms this truth — that parents are the primary educators of their children and that the state and schools are to be secondary and supportive to the parents wishes. Now is the time to stand together for families."
Another earlier social media post from Cline refers to Murray School District educators making a presentation during a recent Utah Pride Center Conference for educators. "Learn more about what they are doing to indoctrinate your children here," Cline wrote, posting a now-deleted video.
The Murray City School District declined to comment.
In a statement, Rob Moolman, executive director of the Utah Pride Center, said: "Our goal is not to indoctrinate anyone, but to shed some light on the situation queer youth are experiencing at school, then allow educators, administrators and even elected officials the opportunity to make decisions based on that information."
Moolman noted a 2019 Student Health and Risk Prevention statewide survey that said 8.8% of students identified as LGBTQ. "Those students also reported feelings of sadness and serious consideration of suicide at higher rates than their heterosexual peers."
The statement continues: "Research shows that positive representation of the queer community in books, movies, TV shows, and other media can mitigate negative experiences, improve resilience and foster self-esteem in queer youth."
Cline wrote that backers of the petition "are planning to flood board member emails tonight and tomorrow. Please write to the Board at firstname.lastname@example.org and ask them to back me up rather than catering to the mob."
A statement from the State School Board said, "Over the past 24 hours, we have received messages both in support and in opposition of" Cline.
The petition states Cline should be removed from office because she believes critical race theory is "harmful and should not be taught in schools."
"She promotes unconscious bias as wrong and believes it should not be taught in schools," the petition says. It also states that "she promotes discrimination of transgender students by providing resources that explain why parents should be concerned."
One of Cline's Facebooks posts refers families to the resources of the Daily Citizen website, which is part of Focus on the Family, a global Christian ministry organization. According to its website, Focus on the Family's mission is "to cooperate with the Holy Spirit in sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ with as many people as possible by nurturing and defending the God-ordained institution of the family and promoting biblical truths worldwide."
The resource says, in part, "When parents drop their children off at school, they are trusting the school to look after their child's best interest, but that is sadly not always the case.
"How would you respond if you discovered your school clinic was dispensing contraceptives to your child — without informing parents? Or if a boy took a spot on your daughter's high school soccer team because he felt like a girl? Or if you found out your 6-year-old child's teacher is reading books about gender-confused children to the whole classroom?"
Those comments were also reposted on Cline's Facebook campaign page.
One commenter on Cline's Facebook page said she underwent the trainings that Cline finds objectionable and said "both helped me think about the things I am saying as an educator may seem harmless but can be hurtful. Knowledge is power. I am not sure why you are against this training. I support the training 100%."
Another commenter posted that Cline should "keep standing for truth."
"None of them know you nor have they sat down with you. I have though. I know you. I have sat down with you. And you are one of the most amazing and kindest human beings I have ever met in my life. These ridiculous accusations are just that. Ridiculous. Accusations," the post said.
"The cancel culture is alive and well. You have every right to be a voice for keeping gender theories out of schools. We can teach love, kindness, and inclusion without telling our 2nd graders they might be a boy one day and a girl the next. They are too young to even tie their shoes let alone be told by an adult they may not be a certain gender."
The Utah chapter of Black Lives Matter issued a campaign Monday calling on supporters to also contact State School Board members. It said, "Be polite, No Threats, No Cussing! The following are statements of opinion. It is our belief that we have a Trump voter white supremacist on the Utah State School Board. She is posting white supremacist rhetoric, as well as homophobic and transphobic rhetoric."
State School Board bylaws do not provide for removal of a board member or censure. However, they allow a board member to be stripped from a board position or assignment by vote of the full board.
State School Board bylaws say "board members may express personal opinions on issues, legislation and areas of concern. Individual board members should state at the outset of comment or statement that comments reflect their personal opinions and evaluations and do not represent the board's official position."
The statement from the school board said in part, "The only methods of removing a sitting board member are impeachment pursuant to Utah Code 77-5-1, resignation of the seat before the fulfillment of a four-year term, or through the regular election process when a board member's term has ended."
It continued: "We respect and encourage the involvement of our constituents statewide, including all of our valued stakeholders. We will continue to work hard to represent all of our respective communities and we remain committed to our duties of providing strategic vision and direction for Utah's education system, while enabling local flexibility and accountability."
Sandra Watkins, who started the petition to remove Cline from office, said she took the step "because I am an educator in the state of Utah who sees the damaging effects on our students that her type of rhetoric creates. I care too deeply for my students to allow her discriminatory rhetoric to infect the Utah education system."
Watkins declined to say where or what she teaches. According to the Utah State Board of Education's licensure website, she has a current Utah teaching license but no current teaching assignment.
Watkins said she initially saw Cline's posts on Facebook through a group's post that expressed concern over her rhetoric. "As an educator, I knew that I could not passively allow her to influence our educational system and promote discrimination within our schools," Watkins said.
Watkins added that she hopes the petition will show the State School Board "the necessity of having a removal process in place. If Natalie Cline cannot be removed with the current mechanism, then USBE needs to create a mechanism for her removal ASAP."
If a teacher posted the same things Cline has posted, "that teacher would be required to complete ethics training. At the very least, Cline needs disciplinary action and an education on ethics," Watkins said.
Contributing: Amy Donaldson, Deseret News
Correction: An earlier version said some comments had been reposted on Cline's school board Facebook page, but it is her campaign Facebook page.