CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A West Virginia assistant principal has been suspended after a complaint that he harassed a transgender male student inside a high school bathroom.
News outlets report Lee Livengood was suspended with pay after a meeting with Harrison County school administrators Tuesday. The suspension runs through the end of the semester on Friday, when the holiday break begins.
The American Civil Liberties Union's West Virginia chapter called the four-day suspension "not sufficient." In a statement, the ACLU says the county school district "needs to make significant changes to its culture."
The ACLU had complained to county schools Superintendent Mark Manchin about Livengood. Student Michael Critchfield said Livengood harassed him for using a boys' bathroom Nov. 27 and told him, "you freak me out." The 15-year-old said he was traumatized by the incident.
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?”