Harrison County’s schools superintendent said Tuesday a Liberty High assistant principal did confront a transgender student for using the boys restroom, and the assistant principal is now on paid suspension.
But Superintendent Mark Manchin also said that, while there’s no written policy on the issue, the county school system doesn’t allow transgender students to use the restrooms matching their gender identities.
“We provide them a restroom, a private restroom right now,” or they can use the restroom matching the sex on their birth certificate, Manchin said.
He suggested that allowing a transgender student to use the restroom matching their gender identity could make other students and parents uncomfortable.
The American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia has alleged that Assistant Principal Lee Livengood harassed Michael Critchfield, 15, in a boys restroom.
“While Michael was still using the facilities in the stall, Mr. Livengood came into the restroom and began questioning Michael as to why he was using the restroom,” the ACLU of West Virginia said in a letter to Manchin. “Shockingly, Mr. Livengood then challenged Michael to ‘come out here and use the urinal,’ if he was really a boy.”
Afterward, the ACLU wrote, Livengood told Critchfield, “I’m not going to lie. You freak me out.”
The letter also said that, before Critchfield came to Liberty High, the school told him “he could not use the boys’ restroom and that he was expected to use the girls’ restroom.”
Manchin, a cousin of Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said an investigation is ongoing. He said Livengood told him he and Critchfield were actually “amicable” after the incident.
Manchin said Livengood said he “never initiated” the conversation about using the urinal.
“I can’t exactly say how that discussion took place, if it did take place,” Manchin said.
Manchin said he hasn’t talked to Critchfield or his parents — the ACLU letter told him “do not contact our client or his family directly about this matter” — and he has a Jan. 4 meeting scheduled with the organization.
“The consensus was [Livengood] handled it incorrectly and he was contrite and apologetic,” Manchin said. “He did confront him in the restroom, that’s not in question. Inappropriately, by the way, and we recognize that and we’re addressing that.”
“While we are heartened to hear the administration admit to wrongdoing, a four day paid suspension of an employee is not sufficient,” the ACLU tweeted Tuesday. “The Harrison County School District needs to make significant changes to its culture. We look forward to meeting with Mr. Manchin and developing a real plan to ensure that every student is safe.”
In February 2017, the Trump administration rescinded the Obama administration’s May 2016 guidance that transgender students — while they can be offered private facilities — must be allowed to use the bathrooms, locker rooms and overnight accommodations that match their gender identities if they so desire.
About half of transgender teen boys have attempted suicide at least once, according to a September study in Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
The West Virginia Board of Education, which writes education policy that applies statewide, currently has a policy that says “acts of harassment, intimidation, or bullying that are reasonably perceived as being motivated by any actual or perceived differentiating characteristic, or by association with a person who has or is perceived to have one or more of these characteristics, shall be reported using the following list.”
The list includes “gender identity or expression.”
That policy goes on to say that “when harassment, intimidation or bullying are of a racial, sexual and/or religious/ethnic nature, the above definition applies to all cases regardless of whether they involve students, staff or the public.” It also says sexual harassment includes “creating an intimidating, hostile or offensive employment or educational environment” and “behavior, verbal or written words or symbols directed at an individual because of gender.”
Harrison’s school board has a policy mirroring that language.
Lawyers for the West Virginia Department of Education and state school board haven’t, in the past, said whether the state policy requires counties to allow transgender students to use the accommodations that match their gender identity.
“The West Virginia Department of Education expects counties to ensure all students, regardless of gender identity, have adequate privacy protections in any restroom and/or changing facility,” department communications Executive Director Kristin Anderson wrote in a statement Tuesday. “Our county superintendents have and will continue to ensure the safety of all students, and, if needed, address transgender identity on a case by case basis.”