The parents of a transgender student are suing the Harrison County Board of Education over a Liberty High assistant principal’s confrontation with their son for using the boys restroom.
The suit also alleges the assistant principal, Lee Livengood, has continued to be in their son’s lunch period.
“Schools are supposed to protect students,” Michael Critchfield, the student, said in a news release Wednesday. “I’ve said all along I’m doing this to help other kids who are facing this same kind of treatment.”
“This action is a last resort,” Loree Stark, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia, said in the release. “Time and time again, we have attempted in good faith to work with Harrison County Schools to create a safe environment for Michael and others like him, but school officials have not taken this seriously.”
ACLU-WV Communications and Development Director Billy Wolfe said Michael’s parents filed their suit against the school board Wednesday, and the ACLU-WV provided a copy.
A Harrison Circuit Clerk employee declined to confirm the filing.
In West Virginia, transgender bathroom access policies are being left up to county school systems, led by elected school boards, because no one outranking these bodies has made the decision for them.
In 2017, the Trump administration rescinded the Obama administration’s guidance on the issue, and the West Virginia Board of Education hasn’t set a statewide policy.
Harrison schools Superintendent Mark Manchin, a cousin of Democratic U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, has said his school system’s unwritten policy is to deny transgender students access to the restrooms matching their gender identity. He said they can use a private restroom or the bathroom matching their birth sex.
The American Medical Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Psychiatric Association and others support giving transgender people access to bathrooms that match their gender identity.
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.
In the suit, Michael’s parents are requesting monetary damages for alleged harm, like “suffering and mental anguish,” plus a ruling banning Livengood from being around Michael or his parents.
The suit alleges that, after the confrontation, Livengood “would continuously appear and remain present during” Michael’s lunch period.
Stark, in an interview Wednesday, said she knows of two or three times this has occurred, despite Michael having the same lunchtime every day.
Mark Manchin didn’t respond to requests for comment Wednesday afternoon. An employee at the school system’s central office said he was out for the afternoon.
But Manchin said in May that “perhaps the ACLU has said [Livengood] was in the cafeteria one time when Michael was in it,” but “that was his responsibility to monitor the cafeteria that day. But, again, not direct interaction.”
Livengood confronted Michael in the restroom in November. About three weeks later, ACLU-WV sent a letter to Manchin.
“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 wrote. “Shockingly, Mr. Livengood then challenged Michael to ‘come out here and use the urinal,’ if he was really a boy.”
After the letter and media reports on it, the county school system suspended Livengood.
Harrison school board president Frank Devono Jr. and Manchin said the incident occurred. But Manchin said Livengood said he “never initiated” the conversation about using the urinal, and Devono said he didn’t have proof of what statements Livengood made.
In March, Manchin recommended continuing Livengood’s contract for a fourth year, but the board unanimously rejected that.
Then, an attorney for Livengood wrote to Manchin that the assistant principal wasn’t told Michael had actually, despite the unwritten ban Manchin claims to exist, been allowed to use the boys restroom. The attorney also wrote that Livengood never said anything “derogatory” to Critchfield during the incident.
Livengood then sued Manchin and the board, arguing that state law already guaranteed Livengood a continuing contract, not the probationary one the board tried to cancel.
In April, the board unanimously reversed course and gave Livengood a continuing contract.
The new suit doesn’t directly call for Livengood to be fired. But it says “instead of protecting a student who suffered a traumatic event at the hands of an employee, [the board] tolerated and rewarded Mr. Livengood with a new contract and enabled Mr. Livengood’s ability to intimidate, harass, and bully” Michael.