The Final Word on Porn in Utah Schools?

Obviously, this is NOT the official position of the USBE Board, but I just wanted to start out by acknowledging and thanking the almost 500 parents and grandparents who wrote the Board and reached out to me hoping the Board would vote for a model policy that would actually prevent porn, in any form, in their children’s schools. I want these parents to know I left nothing on the table and gave this issue every ounce of energy I had.

However, I am just one person on a board of 15, and the other members of the Board present at today’s meeting decided to throw their efforts and their votes behind the Master Merged model policy, which doesn’t require LEAs to do a single thing to stop porn.

This letter, written July 26, 2022, and published here with permission, was written to Natalie Cline's friends and constituents in response to their support for her efforts to protect children from pornography in public schools. It is not an official USBE position.

The author, Natalie Cline, serves on the Utah State Board of Education and represents District 9. Her interest in public education dates back a decade, and is focused on defending and championing the primary role of the family in every aspect of a child's life. Cline's philosophy of pedagogy is characterized by a desire to return to the simple art of learning.

A love of liberty, learning, and the Lord has informed her unwavering approach to tackling education policy and difficult topics at the Board from a truth-based perspective.

it is the culmination of this commitment that has earned natalie cline a reputation as one of Utah's foremost fighters for freedom, faith, and families.

Why? Because model policies are only a suggestion, as reiterated by several board members during today’s meeting. Model policies don’t have the force of law, only Rules do, and the Board rejected my motion last month to create a Rule that would actually enforce HB374, Sensitive Materials in Schools.

The Board spent all morning trying to collaborate on amendments that, at the end of the day, don’t make any real difference. Because, once again, it is still just a model policy, which means it’s purely optional.

Without a Rule, this whole process has been nothing but political theater.

If the Board had passed my motion last month, it would have triggered the creation of a Rule to implement my model policy as the Rule for the state’s 160-plus LEAs (districts & charters) to follow regarding sensitive materials in schools.  If my motion had passed, we would have seen the following happen:

  • My draft would have provided equal protection for ALL children under the law by creating one uniform Rule to follow, instead of spawning 160-plus different policies and interpretations of the law. All children deserve safety from graphic sexual descriptions and images. In contrast, the Master Merged model policy can’t provide ANY real protection because, as previously stated, a model policy is just a suggestion, and has no force of law.
  • My draft’s single uniform approach would have made it infinitely easier for the Attorney General’s office to defend the state and its LEAs against lawsuits, while honoring the letter and spirit of the law regarding obscenity exposure to minors. In contrast, the Master Merged model policy puts the AG’s office in the impossible position of herding cats—it will be extremely difficult for the AG’s office to successfully defend over 100 permutations of pornography policies, which means the LEAs will likely be left to defend themselves.
  • My draft had a series of checks and balances and a statewide tracking system that would have provided transparency and accountability to parents and to the legislature, with our Board taking the ultimate responsibility for the effectiveness of the Rule we would have had to create. Not only should the buck stop with us, but inappropriate books should also stop with us. We are the ones given the constitutional authority for the general control and supervision of the schools. That is not only our power, but it is our RESPONSIBILITY. And contrary to what other Board members stated during last month’s June 30th meeting, it IS our duty to ensure that LEAs are following the law.

  • My draft honored the objective bright line definitions of HB374. Without bright lines, there will always be individuals intent on diluting the definitions in order to justify keeping porn in schools. We have bright line standards when it comes to which movies are allowed in schools. We don’t have to take movies “as a whole” to determine if they are appropriate. Just one or two obscene or even vulgar instances are enough to disqualify a movie from being approved. So why have we allowed a double standard when it comes to books?
  • My draft would have removed sensitive materials immediately from school shelves and from digital access in order to comply with HB374 and mitigate risk of legal challenge as recommended by the Attorney General’s Official Memorandum (page 2) until the complaint process is complete. In contrast, the Master Merged model policy allows pornographic content to remain in schools throughout the process and be made available to some students by way of parental permission or a digital access code that could be easily shared with friends. This violates HB374, which makes porn in the school setting patently illegal. It also violates the Utah Educator Standards (R277-217-(16)(17)(18)(19)) which states:

An educator shall not… (16) knowingly possess, while at school or any school-related activity, any pornographic or indecent material in any form; (17) use school equipment to intentionally view, create, distribute, or store pornographic or indecent material in any form; (18) knowingly use, view, create, distribute, or store pornographic or indecent material involving children; (19) expose students to material the educator knows or should have known to be inappropriate given the age and maturity of the students.

Utah Educator Standards R277-217

For the Board to allow this “restricted” option into the Master Merged model policy is simply irresponsible and is a huge injustice to children whose innocence we are supposed to protect.  Or have schools come to believe it is their job to expose children to sexually graphic content?  Schools cannot give minors drugs or alcohol, even with parent permission, because it is illegal. Again, this begs the question, why is there a double standard when it comes to the proliferation of illegal, sexually graphic content in schools? 

  • My draft used a simple, easy-to-follow rubric, used in conjunction with a chart of clear definitions and references from Utah’s obscenity code, so that educators and administrators statewide could come to the same conclusions regarding what materials meet HB374’s bright line definition of “sensitive material.” That way schools would have known exactly what materials to exclude from school settings. In contrast, the Master Merged model policy intentionally removed the chart and rubric at the expense of clarity, leaving LEAs to debate endlessly over what constitutes pornography and opening them up to all kinds of legal liability for any decision they might dare make.

    Even worse, the Master Merged model policy confuses the exclusionary intent of HB374 by introducing subjective criteria for the types of books schools should include—recommendations that can be easily twisted to actually justify the introduction of pornographic, indecent, or otherwise controversial materials in the name of “relevance,” “diversity,” and “accessibility.”

  • My draft did not limit the number of complaints that could be submitted, as the goal was to get the sexually explicit and illegal content out of the schools as quickly as possible. It provided for a transparent, streamlined, and expedited complaint process. In contrast, the Master Merged model policy allows limits to be placed on the number of complaints and can drag out the complaint process upwards of 2 months. It also allows for books to be reconsidered every 3 years. Is that so books removed for sexually explicit content under one review committee can be overturned by a later review committee?  If this is the case it could only mean one thing—the process wasn’t clear enough to begin with. Had my draft passed with its bright line definitions, there would be little room for error or for future overturning of decisions.

  • My draft allowed parents to appeal their complaints to the USBE Board if they felt the LEA’s decision regarding their sensitive material complaint did not align with the bright line definitions of the law. In that way, the USBE would be a much-needed check and balance on the LEAs. LEAs could avoid appeals to the USBE by ensuring their initial decisions are aligned to the bright line definitions of HB374.

    LEAs would benefit from the legal protection that an appeal to the State Board would provide as final decisions made by the State Board can be legally defended by the state. In contrast, the Master Merged model policy has the USBE only get involved if an LEA isn’t following its own policy—the Master Merged model policy doesn’t provide parents any recourse or appeal if the LEA’s decision on a complaint fails to comply with the law.

A handful of activist organizations weighed-in to support the Master Merged model policy, which apparently trumped the concerns of thousands of Utah parents. We are nothing but a bobblehead Board if we agree to lower our standards to appease socially extreme activists, politicians, and outside organizations whose agendas facilitate the sexualization of Utah’s children. It appears the Board values political “collaboration” over moral obligation.

I want to leave no doubt in the public’s mind about the ineffectual, weak nature of the Master Merged model policy. Even if all LEAs were to adopt it to the letter, it still sells kids short because LEAs would be left to police themselves when it comes to following the law, and they have done an egregious job doing this so far.

8th Grade Student Encounters Sexually Explicit Material in Health Class

Canyons School District Puts Obscene Content Back on Book Shelves

Laverna in the Library – Facebook Group Focused on Explicit Material Sightings in Schools

Davis School District Keeps “Red Hood” in Schools

Pornographic Materials In Schools Inspire 2020 Bill to Create Porn Warning Labels on Books

Parents Plea With Washington County School District to Remove Pornographic Material

What the Master Merged draft doesn’t do is more telling than what it does do—it doesn’t enforce the law. Our kids’ safety is non-negotiable for me. I will not vote for anything that will cause me to violate my oath of office and the promise I made to my constituents when I ran for office, and that’s why I voted NO today on the Master Merged model policy. Our children and the families of Utah deserve better.

For the complete backstory on the events leading up to today’s Board meeting, please read my letter to my constituents published July 14, 2022.

Yours in liberty,

Natalie Cline

Doing What Truth and Liberty Require

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