Assistant principal suspended, accused of harassing transgender student

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CLARKSBURG, W.Va. (AP) — UPDATE (6 p.m. Dec. 18):

A West Virginia high school assistant principal who told a transgender male student "you freak me out" and questioned his choice of bathrooms has been suspended — a move the American Civil Liberties Union said didn't go far enough.

Assistant Principal Lee Livengood of Liberty High School in Clarksburg was suspended with pay after a meeting Tuesday with Harrison County school administrators, news outlets reported. The suspension runs through the end of the semester on Friday, when a holiday break begins.

The American Civil Liberties Union's West Virginia chapter called the four-day suspension "not sufficient." In a statement, the ACLU said the county school district "needs to make significant changes to its culture," including best-practice policies and training for dealing with transgender students and issues.

County schools Superintendent Mark Manchin didn't return telephone messages seeking comment.

Fifteen-year-old student Michael Critchfield said in an interview Monday night that he was traumatized by the Nov. 27 incident in a school boys' bathroom.

According to Critchfield, the school's band was preparing to take an afterschool bus trip to Morgantown to watch a performance at West Virginia University. Critchfield said he went to the bathroom and checked to see if anyone was standing at a urinal before he went into a stall.

Livengood then opened the bathroom door and asked if any students were in the stall. Critchfield replied, and when he left the stall, Livengood was standing in the bathroom doorway and blocked Critchfield from leaving.

Critchfield recalled Livengood repeatedly yelling, "Why are you in here? You shouldn't be in here."

Critchfield replied it was his legal right to use that bathroom. He said Livengood used improper pronouns when referring to Critchfield and challenged him to use a urinal to prove that he was a boy.

"I felt really degraded and discriminated against," Critchfield added.

Critchfield said other students had heard screaming coming from the bathroom and told a chaperone, who saw both Critchfield and Livengood walk out.

According to Critchfield, Livengood then said, "Not going to lie. You freak me out."

Critchfield said school "should feel like a safe place. Kids like me should never have to go through anything like this. At the end of the day all I wanted was to feel welcome."

ACLU West Virginia executive director Joseph Cohen called it "a life or death issue." The American Academy of Pediatrics published a study earlier this year showing 51 percent of trans male adolescents had attempted suicide.

"The stakes couldn't really be higher here," Cohen said. "It's past time that West Virginia schools take LGBTQ issues seriously."

Critchfield's mother, Caroline Critchfield, said the incident infuriated her.

"As a parent, that is my child that you are talking to," she said. "His job was to provide safety, to protect my son while he was in school. Not bully. Not badger. Not to humiliate. Not to tear someone down. Not cause phobia. Not cause discrimination against him. What is this teaching our students?"

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UPDATE (Dec. 18):

A West Virginia high school's assistant principal should be disciplined after questioning a transgender male student over his choice of bathrooms and saying, "you freak me out," the American Civil Liberties Union said.

The ACLU's West Virginia chapter said it has asked the Harrison County schools superintendent to take action against Assistant Principal Lee Livengood at Liberty High School in Clarksburg. An ACLU statement said the chapter also is seeking best-practice policies and training in the school system for dealing with transgender students and issues.

Fifteen-year-old student Michael Critchfield said Monday night in an interview he was traumatized by the Nov. 27 incident in a school boys' bathroom.

County schools Superintendent Mark Manchin didn't immediately respond to a request for comment Monday.

According to Critchfield, the school's band was preparing to take an afterschool bus trip to Morgantown to watch a performance at West Virginia University. Critchfield said he went to the bathroom and checked to see if anyone was standing at a urinal before he went into a stall.

Livengood then opened the bathroom door and asked if any students were in the stall. Critchfield replied, and when he left the stall, Livengood was standing in the bathroom doorway and blocked Critchfield from leaving.

Critchfield recalled Livengood repeatedly yelling, "Why are you in here? You shouldn't be in here."

Critchfield replied it was his legal right to use that bathroom. He said Livengood used improper pronouns when referring to Critchfield and challenged him to use a urinal to prove that he was a boy.

"I felt really degraded and discriminated against," Critchfield said.

Critchfield said other students had heard screaming coming from the bathroom and told a chaperone, who saw both Critchfield and Livengood walk out.

According to Critchfield, Livengood then said, "Not going to lie. You freak me out."

Critchfield said school "should feel like a safe place. Kids like me should never have to go through anything like this. At the end of the day all I wanted was to feel welcome."

ACLU West Virginia executive director Joseph Cohen called it "a life or death issue." The American Academy of Pediatrics published a study earlier this year showing 51 percent of trans male adolescents had attempted suicide.

"The stakes couldn't really be higher here," Cohen said. "It's past time that West Virginia schools take LGBTQ issues seriously."

Critchfield's mother, Caroline Critchfield, said the incident infuriated her.

"As a parent, that is my child that you are talking to," she said. "His job was to provide safety, to protect my son while he was in school. Not bully. Not badger. Not to humiliate. Not to tear someone down. Not cause phobia. Not cause discrimination against him. What is this teaching our students?"

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The ACLU of West Virginia is backing a Liberty High School student who alleges an assistant principal bullied and harassed them in the school bathroom.

According to a press release sent by the ACLU Monday, a sophomore student said they were, "cornered, harassed and intimidated in a public boys bathroom" by an assistant principal on Nov. 27.

The release alleges the assistant principal confronted the student in the bathroom and challenged the student to "use a urinal to prove that he was a boy."

"At the end of the exchange, (the principal) told (the student) in front of other students and a chaperone, “Not going to lie. You freak me out,'" according to the ACLU.

The organization today sent a letter to the Harrison County Schools superintendent seeking answers and a resolution.

“The fact that this not only occurred on school property, but was perpetrated by a principal at the school is reprehensible,” said ACLU-WV Executive Director Joseph Cohen. “We trust West Virginia schools to care for and educate our children and because of that, they must be held to a higher standard than what (the student) experienced. This should never have happened in the first place and we are certainly doing everything we can to ensure it never happens again.”

The ACLU said as of this morning, no action had been taken against the principal.

“At the end of the day, all I want is to feel welcome and safe in my school,” the student said in the press release. “(The principal)’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.”

Harrison County Schools superintendent Dr. Mark Manchin has released a statement in regards to the alleged incident.

"The preliminary information I have received does appear from what I've been able to confirm is that our employee did not act in an appropriate manner, and was not sensitive to the needs of one of our students," Manchin said.