A West Virginia school district where an administrator demanded a transgender student use a urinal in front of him is back in the hot seat.
Harrison County Schools has failed to implement promised changes to keep transgender students safe after Liberty High School Assistant Principal Lee Livengood harassed sophomore Michael Critchfield in a bathroom, according to the ACLU of West Virginia.
Michael, a transgender high school student, was bullied and harassed in the bathroom at school by his assistant principal. Sign this petition to support him and all #LGBTQ students in #WV. #JusticeforMichael SIGN: https://t.co/suY5276pjW pic.twitter.com/GofWdjRCZz
— ACLU of WV (@ACLU_WV) March 7, 2019
The ACLU, representing Critchfield, has launched a petition aimed at administrators after talks between the organization and the district deteriorated.
The incident dates back to November 2018, when Livengood was accused of following Critchfield into a boys’ bathroom. According to the ACLU, Livengood yelled, “I’m not going to lie: You freak me out”; demanded that the 15-year-old trans boy use a urinal in front of him to prove he was male; and then barred him from leaving the bathroom.
The story became a national scandal and resulted in Livengood’s unpaid suspension.
Today, we met with Harrison County Schools Superintendent, Mark Manchin, to discuss next steps relating to the November 27, 2018 incident involving Liberty High School student Michael Critchfield and an Assistant Principal. The following statement is from Joseph Cohen #ACLUWV pic.twitter.com/EUin5D2Fs4
— ACLU of WV (@ACLU_WV) January 9, 2019
This January, both sides announced an amicable resolution. Livengood was reinstated by a unanimous vote by the Board of Education later that month. Now, the ACLU says the district has abandoned all good faith efforts to keep Critchfield and other trans students safe.
Loree Stark, the ACLU of West Virginia’s legal director, tells NewNowNext that the final straw came at the end of January, when the administration turned over Livengood’s mandated apology letter to Critchfield.
The letter, published by the ACLU and pictured below, is just two sentences long.
“I am deeply sorry for raising my voice while in the bathroom on 11/27/18,” it reads. “I promise it won’t happen again.”
“It seems to be really clear he is not taking accountability for his actions,” Stark adds.
In a statement, Critchfield called the district’s response a “slap in the face”: “I refuse to allow the Board of Education and Assistant Principal Livengood to sweep what happened to me under the rug,” he wrote. “Since the incident in the bathroom, I have seen little effort from the administration to create real change and ensure this never happens again.”
Neither Superintendent Mark Manchin nor Harrison County Board of Education President Frank Devono Jr. responded to requests for comments from NewNowNext.
Previously, Devono Jr. stated that the district’s decision to reinstate Livengood came with the expectation that he would follow through with recommendations made in an investigative report completed by Manchin.
“After that report had been filed, and after that report had been completed, [it found] it did not warrant termination, it warranted a suspension and unpaid suspension,” he said. “And that he at that point would complete the stipulations that the superintendent and the board came up with, and that he would be able to come back to work.”
Meanwhile, Stark alleges that the same day Livengood returned to work, he was assigned to oversee Critchfield’s lunch hour.
“He shouldn’t be in the same room as Michael, ever,” Stark adds. “This is was a very traumatic incident.”
Stark further claims that the district has stalled on launching a faculty-sponsored GSA at the high school and that administrators sought to enact a transgender policy that skirted best practices recommended by national LGBTQ advocacy organizations.
“They were really sticking to this point that a parent would have to get involved,” Stark says. “They were in agreement that they would respect the name [of the trans student], respect the pronouns, but also as soon as this process got started, they would notify the parent or guardian.”
According to Stark, that policy—effectively outing a trans student to their family—would make it less safe for trans students to come out at school. The ACLU had pushed for the model transgender policy published by GLSEN, which recommends that schools work with trans students when determining what is safe to disclose to parents about their gender identity.
A new policy at Harrison County Schools wouldn’t just impact Critchfield. There are other trans students at Liberty High School, Stark says, although it’s unclear how many. Meanwhile, Critchfield continues to experience misgendering at school, and at least one staffer uses the wrong name and pronouns to refer to him intentionally.
Michael, a transgender high school student, was bullied and harassed in the bathroom at school by his assistant principal. Sign this petition to support him and all #LGBTQ students in WV.
— WV FREE (@WVFREE) March 11, 2019
Only 20 states and Washington, D.C., have transgender protections on the books, and West Virginia is not among them. In February 2017, the Trump administration rolled back Obama-era guidance protecting transgender students.
Since then, transgender students have taken bathroom access complaints to federal courts across the country. The Supreme Court declined to hear Virginia trans student Gavin Grimm’s case in 2017, but he won his federal lawsuit in May 2018. In Florida, transgender student Drew Adams is challenging his school’s anti-transgender bathroom policy. His case could secure trans protections in Florida, Georgia, and Alabama.
In Critchfield’s case, the ACLU has not ruled out action against the district. According to Stark, “All options are on the table at this point.”