A West Virginia school board is meeting this week to decide whether to suspend an assistant principal without pay for allegedly harassing a trans student in the bathroom. The board will meet Tuesday to consider the move, which was reportedly recommended by the district's superintendent. This is the latest example of public schools across the country having to protect trans students — even with the Trump administration working to undo trans rights protections.
The Associated Press reported that Michael Critchfield, 15, alleged Liberty High School Assistant Principal Lee Livengood waited outside the stall while Critchfield used the restroom in late November. After Critchfield finished, he said Livengood repeatedly asked him, "Why are you in here? You shouldn’t be in here."
Livengood also allegedly challenged Critchfield to use the urinal to prove he was a boy. A letter from the ACLU to the school superintendent further alleges that Livengood told Critchfield before he left with his parent, "I’m not going to lie. You freak me out." Bustle reached out to Liberty High School to try and contact Livengood for comment.
Initially, the district allowed Livengood to keep working, but after the ACLU of West Virginia took on the case and local media started to cover the story in December, Livengood was suspended with pay. Now, according to The Exponent Telegram, the Harrison County Board of Education is deciding whether to make that suspension indefinite — and to take away his pay.
Bustle reached out to Superintendent Mark Manchin for comment on his recommendation. He had previously commented to local media on the matter, saying in December that the initial response was "inappropriate" and said the district needed to do "a better job."
That "better job" is already taking shape. Manchin has a meeting with the ACLU before the board meeting on Tuesday, and district-wide sensitivity trainings are being rolled out, Board President Frank Devono told The Exponent Telegram.
This is the most recent example of a school district taking the side of a transgender student voluntarily — if this time with pressure from the ACLU and the media. The Trump administration's Justice and Education Departments announced in February 2017 that they were rescinding a non-discrimination directive on transgender students, which had been ushered in by the Obama administration.
In October 2017, Frederick County in exurban Maryland announced a new policy that protected trans students across all of the district's schools, The Washington Post reported. It covers bathrooms and locker rooms, saying that students can use the one that matches their gender identity — or that another option can be provided if the student feels uncomfortable. It also ensures use of the student's proper name, privacy concerns, and more.
In Indiana, a teacher resigned in June after the local school board required all employees refer to trans students by their proper names. The teacher told The Indianapolis Star that he resigned when the district threatened to fire him.
Critchfield, in a statement provided to the The Exponent Telegram, explained what he hoped to achieve in pushing back. "At the end of the day, all I want is to feel welcome and safe in my school," Critchfield said in the statement. "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."
Now, in his school district at least, the treatment Critchfield faced will be far less likely.