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School official harassed trans teen in bathroom, lawsuit claims

The lawsuit alleges an assistant principal followed a trans student into the boys' bathroom at a West Virginia high school and said, "You freak me out."

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A lawsuit has been filed on behalf of a West Virginia transgender male who said an assistant principal harassed him when he tried to use the boys' bathroom, the latest in a string of court challenges to school policies for transgender students nationwide.

The lawsuit filed in state court accuses the Harrison County Board of Education of failing to create a safe school environment for teenager Michael Critchfield, the American Civil Liberties Union announced in a news release Wednesday.

Michael Critchfield
Michael Critchfield.ACLU West Virginia

The ACLU said assistant principal Lee Livengood followed Critchfield into the boys' bathroom in November at Liberty High School and said, "You freak me out." Critchfield said he also was ordered to prove his gender by using a urinal. He was 15 at the time.

"Schools are supposed to protect students," Critchfield said in the statement. "I've said all along I'm doing this to help other kids who are facing this same kind of treatment."

ACLU state legal director Loree Stark called the lawsuit "a last resort." It seeks unspecified damages and to prohibit Livengood from having contact with Critchfield and his family.

The ACLU previously sought best-practice policies and training in the school system for dealing with transgender students and issues, but it wasn't immediately known whether those demands were met. Assistant county schools superintendent James Lopez did not immediately return a telephone message. Livengood declined comment on the lawsuit.

Wheeling attorney Teresa Toriseva, who is representing Critchfield, said "what happened to Michael shouldn't happen to any kid. For four long minutes, Michael was held against his will by a man twice his size and who was in a position of authority, who was screaming at him and demanding he expose himself."

According to Critchfield, the school band was preparing to take an after-school 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 said he 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 said he replied that 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.

Livengood's attorney, Alex Shook, had argued that his client was unaware of Critchfield's gender identity and was not told of an arrangement Critchfield had with the principal to use the boys' restrooms.

Livengood was suspended with pay but allowed to return after a holiday break. In March the board voted not to renew his contract at the end of a three-year probationary period, then reversed itself a month later and reinstated him.

Earlier this month, a federal judge in Virginia ruled a school board's transgender bathroom ban discriminated against a former student, Gavin Grimm.

The Gloucester County School Board said it intends to appeal the decision. The board's policy required Grimm, a transgender male, to use girls' restrooms or private bathrooms. Grimm graduated in 2017 from Gloucester High School, located in a mostly rural area about 60 miles (95 kilometers) east of Richmond.

Grimm's lawsuit became a federal test case when it was supported by the administration of then-President Barack Obama. A hearing before the U.S. Supreme Court in 2017 was canceled after President Donald Trump rescinded an Obama-era directive that students can choose bathrooms corresponding with their gender identity.

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