On Tuesday, Al and Rachel van der Beek were cheering on their daughter as she played in a high school basketball game.
The next morning, they were trying to figure out how to navigate the aftermath of state school board member Natalie Cline posting an image of their daughter captioned “Girls basketball ...,” which many Utahns, including legislative leaders, said implied the player was male. She is not.
“Of course, it’s overwhelming. It’s unexpected. But then it’s like, ‘OK. So, God, why did you give us this trial?’ And it’s like, well, because we can, we’re strong enough to be a voice and to push forward,” said Al van der Beek in an interview Friday.
The girl’s parents were among some 300 community members who packed the chambers of the Granite School District Board of Education Friday evening for a special meeting to consider a resolution condemning Cline’s social media post and to call for other school boards across the state and other elected officials to join them in demanding her immediate resignation from the Utah State Board of Education.
The resolution passed 6-1, with board member Kim Chandler voting in opposition. The people attending the meeting rose to their feet and applauded once the meeting adjourned.
The resolution said in part: “We condemn anyone who would bully or target any student for any reason, but especially those in positions of power who are specifically elected to represent and protect our children.”
The resolution called the behavior “cowardly, harmful and unacceptable.”
Rachel van der Beek said the resolution was “a good step in the right direction. We’re excited. We’re happy. We feel like this is a way of the community showing support for our daughter and other children that are similar to her,” she said.
Granite board member Chandler, who cast the lone no vote, said she opposed the resolution because it ensures the “media spectacle” would continue, it was not a plan to provide support to the student and it denied due process for Cline.
Those attending the board meeting rose to their feet and applauded following the board’s vote.
Al van der Beek said his daughter and family have been strongly supported by the school district since the ordeal began.
“They have been amazing since day one. What I love the most is that they’re treating our daughter like it was their daughter. They’re not treating her just like a student or anything. These are parents, right? And they’re treating her the same way that would and so that’s, that’s pretty amazing,” he said.
While the social media post and response was about their daughter, the van der Beeks said they questioned “How deep we get into this?
“It is about our daughter, of course. It’s also about all the children no matter what they identify with and they don’t have a voice, that are being bullied and being cyber bullied, being treated wrong. This is what this is about.”
Walking into the packed board room was “overwhelming,” he said, but he was heartened that all the people in the room were there for the same reasons.
“We’re all united on one thing and so we can make a difference and we’re going to do whatever we can to make that difference. There has to be consequences for people in these positions and we can’t sweep it under the rug,” Al van der Beek said.
Rachel van der Beek said the support their daughter has received “has been amazing, but she would rather fly more under the radar. She doesn’t like all this attention even though a lot of it has been positive. She’d just rather go to school, go to class. Being a teenager’s already hard enough.”
Al van der Beek said when he asked his daughter yesterday how she was feeling “She said, ‘This makes me feel like I don’t belong in this body, like I can’t look the way that I look.’”
“This is what we’re going to fight because there’s a lot of kids that are trying to figure out, we’re all trying to figure out, who we are, especially in the teenage years. Then to have people make us feel uncomfortable because of the way we style our hair, the clothes that we wear, and because we have a certain physique. Like who determines what body a man or a woman should or shouldn’t have? Definitely not Natalie Cline,” he said.
Late Friday, The Utah School Boards Association, the Utah School Superintendents Association and the Utah Association of School Business Officials issued a statement that said they stand in solidarity with Granite School District, the governor’s office and legislative leadership “in condemning the deplorable actions of an elected official specifically charged with caring for the well-being and welfare of Utah’s school children. We support any and all legal actions that could be undertaken to remove the offender from this position of trust.”
Earlier Friday, a Sandy lawmaker opened a resolution in response to Cline’s recent social media post.
The resolution, titled “Resolution to Address Recent Actions of State School Board Member Natalie Cline,” was requested by Republican Rep. Robert Spendlove.
“Opening this resolution will allow the Legislature to start a process that is fair and deliberative,” Spendlove told members of the Utah House of Representatives on Friday.
“This allows us to consider all options within our constitutional authority and this is the responsibility of the Legislature,” he said.
Cline’s subsequent social media post said she “never claimed the student was a boy.” She took down the initial post and apologized, although Al van der Beek said the post came some nine hours after he initially reached out to her on social media and “the damage had already been done.”
House Speaker Mike Schultz, R-Hooper, apologized to the teen and her family during Friday’s meeting with reporters and Republican House leaders.
“I can’t imagine, as a parent of four girls, having to go through what that girl is going through and what that family has gone through. It’s not fair, and it’s not and my heart breaks for that family, literally,” said Schultz said.
The House will take a deliberative approach with the resolution introduced by Spendlove, he said.
“I think it’s important that we go through a process rather than act out of emotion. I think that’s where people make mistakes when they start acting out of emotion. First, we want to be fair in whatever process we go through, where it needs to be. That’s what the public expects us to do. We don’t act out of emotion. We go through a process,” he said.
The legislature has several options up to and including impeachment.
Schultz said dealing with the aftermath of Cline’s social media post “is the last thing I want to do, to be quite honest with you, but we have an obligation.”
Asked if the resolution was intended to pressure Cline to step down, Schultz said if he was in her shoes, “I would strongly consider resigning.”
Utah lawmakers plan to address the resolution during the session. Aside from taking action itself, the Legislature could grant the state school board with impeachment authority.
Meanwhile, the state school board’s Internal Audit Department has received “hundreds” of complaints about Cline’s social media posts, according to chief audit executive Debbie Davis.
The complaints, which were lodged by the office’s hotline or online have been divided among four staff members to log.
Some expressed concern. Others disagreed with the posts, Davis said.
“They thought it was humiliating or harmful to students. So some have said ‘resignation.’ Some are, like, ‘reprimand to the extent that you can.’ Those are the kinds of things that we’re seeing,” she said.
The audit staff will next conduct “a very high level preliminary analysis” to determine if there is merit to the complaints and, if so, refer them to the state school board leadership, Davis said.
“They’ll take a look and they can decide either, ‘Yes, we think there’s merit and more should be done’ or ‘No, we’re done,’” she said.
The state school board cannot remove a member but it can reprimand or censure a member “for any violation of law, policy, bylaws, or any other conduct which tends to injure the good name of the board, following adequate due process, if appropriate.”
A member can be removed from committee assignments, prohibited from requesting an item to be placed on an agenda or “other appropriate action,” which is not specified in the bylaws.
Contributing: Bridger Beal-Cvetko, Lisa Riley Roche