Metro Weekly

West Virginia principal suspended after telling transgender teen “you freak me out”

Despite complaint, district policy prohibits transgender students from using restrooms matching their gender identity

Liberty High School – Photo: Harrison County Board of Education.

A West Virginia assistant principal has been placed on unpaid suspension after he was accused of harassing a transgender student for using the boys’ restroom.

On Tuesday, the Harrison County Board of Education voted unanimously to suspend Lee Livengood, the assistant principal of Liberty High School in Clarksburg, W.V., through Feb. 1 for an incident in November last year, during which he allegedly harassed 15-year-old Michael Critchfield and asked him why he was using a stall in the boys’ restroom, reports the Charleston Gazette-Mail.

The American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia, which is representing Critchfield, alleges that Livengood challenged the teenager to “come out here and use the urinal” — thereby exposing his genitalia — to prove he was “really” a boy. When the teen tried to leave the restroom. the ACLU claims Livengood told him “you freak me out.”

Following the incident, Critchfield’s parents spoke with administrators, but no action was taken until Dec. 18, when Superintendent Mark Manchin placed Livengood on paid suspension following media reports on a letter released by the ACLU demanding action.

But Board of Education President Frank Devono Jr. said the board members disagreed with Livengood’s punishment, and told Manchin their sentiments two weeks ago, after which he, acting of his own accord, changed the suspension to unpaid.

For his part, Livengood has said he “never initiated” the conversation about using the urinal, according to Manchin.

After receiving an investigative report on the incident, the board extended Livengood’s suspension through Feb. 1, and ruled that the assistant principal will have to meet certain stipulations — which have yet to be specified — before he returns to work.

Despite the outcry over the incident, Manchin has said that, while the county has no written policy on the issue, the school system does not allow transgender students to use restrooms matching their gender identity. He previously noted that schools can either opt to provide a single-stall bathroom for transgender students or require them to use the restroom matching the sex listed on their birth certificate. Otherwise, he said, the presence of a transgender student could make other students and parents uncomfortable.

Devono said the board will have to discuss the unwritten policy on transgender restroom use at a later point, but added that Livengood was suspended not because of political correctness, but because he crossed a line and violated a student’s bodily privacy. 

“In my deliberations with this situation, to me, this was not an issue about a transgender student being allowed or not allowed to use a specific bathroom, this was an issue about an administrator overstepping his bounds and cornering a student and being … intrusive,” Devono told the Gazette-Mail. “I guess what I’m saying is he had no business following that student into a restroom.”

Prior to the board’s decision, Joseph Cohen, the executive director of the ACLU of West Virginia, said the organization had a “productive discussion” in a meeting with Manchin and the Critchfields to discuss accommodations for Michael going forward.

“Michael and his family were heartened with the outcome of the meeting and are now looking forward to working with the school district to make a more inclusive environment for LGBTQ students in Harrison County,” Cohen said in a statement. “Because of Michael’s bravery and willingness to come forward, we now have the opportunity to replicate and expand on inclusion practices in other counties across West Virginia to ensure this never happens again to anyone under any circumstance.”

John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com

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