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A West Virginia assistant principal who was accused of harassing a transgender student for using the boys’ restroom will be back working with students next school year after the Harrison County Board of Education approved a continuing contract for him.
On Monday, the board unanimously approved the updated contract of Liberty High School Assistant Principal Lee Livengood at the request of Schools Superintendent Dr. Mark Manchin, who made several recommendations regarding school personnel.
The decision to approve Livengood’s contract came after “a lot of discussion” between school officials, the board, and legal counsel, reports NCWV Media.
“I commend this board for taking the time and getting the input,” Manchin said. “We just felt it was best for the school system and best for the school that we move forward and hopefully, after today’s action, we can put this behind us and move forward, and hopefully everything will be OK.”
Frank Devono, Jr., the president of the Harrison County Board of Education, said the board acted in accordance with the law when it approved Livengood’s updated contract.
“We recognize that there is a continuing contract that Mr. Livengood should have,” Devono said. “By law, we have certain rights and there are certain rules. Public employees have rights, too. This is one of those situations where we recognize that a public employee has a right to a continuing contract.”
Livengood previously came under scrutiny after the ACLU of West Virginia filed a complaint on behalf of 15-year-old Michael Critchfield, a transgender student at Liberty High, claiming that Livengood had allegedly harassed the teenager by following him inside the boys’ bathroom and asking him why he was using the boys’ facilities.
In the complaint, Critchfield claimed he told Livengood it was his right to use the boys’ bathroom, at which point Livengood challenged the teenager to use the urinal to “prove” he was “really” a boy. He also alleged that Livengood told him: “You freak me out.”
As a result, Livengood was suspended with pay in December, had his suspension extended without pay a month later, and, in March, saw the Board of Education vote not to renew his contract beyond the current school year.
Livengood filed a civil complaint earlier this month objecting to the board’s decision not to renew his contract. In that complaint, his lawyers argued that the school board wrongly treated Livengood as a probationary employee, which he has not been since he first arrived in the district at the start of the 2016-2017 school year.
As a result, they argued, Livengood is entitled to a continuing contract, and asked Harrison Chief Judge James Matish to issue a writ of mandamus ordering the school board to grant him one, reports NCWV Media.
Attorneys for Livengood were not immediately available for comment regarding the board’s decision.
The ACLU of West Virginia offered public comments just prior to the board’s vote expressing concern about Livengood’s judgment and ability to work with children. But Manchin does not foresee transferring Livengood to another school or taking any additional action to restrict his interactions with students.
Following the vote, the ACLU of West Virginia vowed to continue fighting on behalf of LGBTQ students.
“In light of yesterday’s actions by the Harrison County Board of Education, we want to reaffirm our demand that Mr. Livengood not be allowed any contact with Michael or any children,” the statement read. “Mr. Livengood has demonstrated he is incapable of conducting himself in a professional manner in any environment with children, and he has shown a troubling lack of remorse for his actions. We will be actively monitoring the situation to ensure Michael and the students of Harrison County are protected moving forward.”
Manchin has said that since the alleged confrontation between Livengood and Critchfield, the district has allowed the West Virginia University LGBTQ+ Center to carry out two sensitivity training sessions for employees on how best to deal with transgender students.
Timothy Ward, a spokesman for the ACLU of West Virginia, said the district also promised to implement “evidence-based, trans-inclusive, best practice policies” for dealing with transgender students’ concerns about pronoun usage, names, school records, and access to restrooms and locker rooms.
“Those best practice policies included a line item that didn’t incorporate parental notification,” Ward told Metro Weekly. “[But] We haven’t gotten any confirmation from the school district that they have, in fact, agreed to the policy that doesn’t include parental notification.”
Ward said the lack of parental notification is designed to ensure the safety of students and avoid unintentionally outing them to their parents.
“Michael comes from a very loving background. His family is very supportive, very accepting. But not every child comes from that same background,” Ward said. “So making sure that parental notification isn’t part of those policies guarantees a level of protection for the child that otherwise wouldn’t be there.”
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