The Utah Legislature voted Thursday to censure a conservative member of the state Board of Education whose social media post questioning the gender of a high school basketball player sparked threats against the girl and led state officials to request the resignation of the board member.

Lawmakers passed a resolution condemning Natalie Cline’s actions a day after the Utah State Board of Education voted unanimously to strip Cline of her committee assignments and nearly all administrative responsibilities. The board will no longer allow Cline to attend meetings or include agenda items, and her colleagues have asked her to resign by February 19.

The legislative reprimand, which now lands on the governor’s desk, carries no actual punishment, but is a formal way for lawmakers to express their disapproval. The measure received unanimous support in the Senate after being approved in the House with only two votes against, one from a Democrat and the other from a Republican.

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Both the Legislature and the Board of Education have left it up to Cline whether to resign or remain in office with limited authority. He is running for re-election in November. Democrats had urged Republican legislative leaders to punish Cline more harshly, either by impeaching her or allowing the board to do so, a power it does not currently have.

Cline, who had previously been investigated for inflammatory comments about LGBTQ+ students, singled out the Salt Lake City athlete in a Facebook post that falsely implied the girl was transgender. After learning that the girl was not trans, Cline apologized for sparking a firestorm of vulgar comments.

House Speaker Mike Schultz, a Hooper Republican, said before the vote that members of his chamber were “scattered” on whether to impeach Cline or let voters decide her future in the fall.

“If this body moves forward with impeachment, this will explode like a mushroom cloud on the national stage,” Schultz said. “The hate we’re seeing directed toward that family right now is going national. It’s a difficult decision to make.”

Francis Gibson

Utah Republican Rep. Mike Schultz looks on, Feb. 28, 2020, at the state Capitol in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)

House Minority Leader Angela Romero said she was frustrated that Republican leaders interrupted debate before she could propose an amendment that would instead launch impeachment proceedings. However, she and her fellow Democrats voted overwhelmingly in favor of the resolution to censure Cline.

Republican Gov. Spencer Cox told reporters Thursday that he supports the board’s strong censure and believes it effectively has the same impact as impeachment. He had urged the board to take action against Cline, saying she “embarrassed the state.”

Even as she apologized, Cline defended her initial suspicions, saying that a national push to normalize transgender identities makes it “normal to pause and wonder if people are what they say they are.”

Cox responded Thursday to criticism from LGBTQ+ rights advocates who argue that he and Republican lawmakers enabled Cline’s behavior by passing a ban on transgender bathrooms that they say gives people license to question the someone’s gender.

“Even if this young man was transgender, it would have been inappropriate,” Cox said. “That’s not who we are or what we should do.”

In a Facebook post Wednesday, Cline argued that the board was taking away his right to represent his constituents without due process. She wrote that she did not have enough time to read all the materials and create a response before Wednesday’s meeting.

The board determined that Cline violated policies requiring members to respect student privacy and uphold state standards for educators, which include not engaging in sexual or emotional harassment of students and treating students with dignity and respect.

The board resolution said Cline allowed negative comments about the girl to remain on her social media page, while comments in support of the student, which together “appeared to constitute cyberbullying as defined” in Utah law.

In a letter published Thursday in The Salt Lake Tribune, the girl’s parents, Al and Rachel van der Beek, also urged Cline to resign and called for her impeachment.

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“Ms. Cline did exactly what we teach our children not to do: she attacked social media without fact-checking, which ultimately led to an avalanche of hateful and despicable comments directed at our daughter that lasted more than 16 hours.” . the letter said. “It was one of the most painful things we’ve ever had to endure.”

By Sam