A high school assistant principal was assigned a four-day suspension for allegedly bullying a transgender student in the restroom, challenging him to use a urinal and saying, “Not going to lie. You freak me out.”
According to the West Virginia chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Lee Livengood, the assistant principal at Liberty High School in Clarksburg, W.Va., followed 15-year-old transgender student Michael Critchfield into the boys’ restroom on Nov. 27 and harassed him.
In a letter addressed to Harrison County School District superintendent Mark A. Manchin and sent to Yahoo Lifestyle by the ACLU, Michael was using the men’s restroom when Livengood entered and asked the teen why he was inside the stall. Michael answered that the restroom was empty, and Livengood allegedly said, if he was a boy, “come out here and use the urinal.” Micheal replied that he was born a female but identifies as male.
Michael alleges that Livengood blocked the exit door and yelled, “What would happen” if a male student believed the boy was “checking him out,” enabling students in the hallway and in the cafeteria to overhear. The teacher also allegedly refused to use correct pronouns when speaking to Michael.
After Livengood agreed to let Michael leave, he began “crying uncontrollably” and was consoled outside the restroom by a parent. The letter continues, “Before Michael left to return to the band room with the adult, Mr. Livengood, an adult who is supposed to be responsible for the safety and well-being of children, looked at Michael and said, ‘I’m not going to lie. You freak me out.’”
The next day, Michael’s parents, Caroline and Jon Critchfield, met with members of the school and the Harrison County School District and were promised an investigation.
According to the ACLU, since the teen’s freshmen year, Liberty administrators have refused to call him “Michael,” used his birth name over the intercom during school announcements or told him he couldn’t use the boys’ room, despite reminders from the family. The alleged treatment violates Michael’s Constitutional rights, West Virginia’s Anti-Bullying Statute on “harassment, intimidation or bullying,” and the district’s own sexual harassment policy.
The ACLU asks that staff is trained to work with transgender students and to follow established policies. It also wants Livengood to be disciplined for his treatment of Michael.
On Monday, Manchin, who did not respond to Yahoo Lifestyle’s request for comment, told the Charleston Gazette-Mail that Livengood can remain at school during the investigation. “Clearly, the way we’ve handled this is inappropriate,” he said. “Perhaps we need to do a better job about how we handle these situations. It’s a relatively new issue over the past several years that we’ve become more aware of and sensitive of.”
However, on Tuesday, according to local WV News, Livengood was suspended with pay until the end of the semester — which amounts to four days. Manchin said the punishment is “best for (Livengood) and all people concerned to get him out of the school system right now.” Manchin did not respond to Yahoo Lifestyle’s request for comment.
“While we are heartened to hear the administration admit to wrongdoing, a four-day paid suspension of an employee is not sufficient,” the ACLU said in a statement sent to Yahoo Lifestyle. “The Harrison County School District needs to make significant changes to its culture. We look forward to meeting with Mr. Manchin and developing a real plan to ensure that every student is safe.”
According to WV News, Machin said Livengood “was very contrite in his demeanor, recognized that it was inappropriate and was very apologetic.” However, Livengood disputes some of Michael’s claims.
Livengood’s suspension will be discussed at a Harrison County Board of Education meeting on Tuesday evening. Pending the investigation’s outcome, he’s scheduled to resume work on Jan. 2, 2019.
“At the end of the day, all I want is to feel welcome and safe in my school,” Michael said in an ACLU press release. “Mr. Livengood’s behavior in the bathroom that day was terrifying and no student deserves that kind of treatment. I’m telling my story so that high school doesn’t have to be a scary place for kids like me.”
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