Michael Critchfield is a 15-year-old transgender student in West Virginia accusing his assistant principal of demanding he “prove” he was a boy, The Daily Beast reported.
The American Civil Liberties Union’s West Virginia branch detailed the allegations made by Critchfield against assistant principal Lee Livengood in a letter to Harrison County Schools Superintendent Dr. Mark Manchin, the cousin of West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin.
According to the ACLU, Livengood demanded to know why Critchfield was in the boy’s bathroom and demanded he “prove” he was a boy by using the urinal.
According to the letter, Livengood berated and denigrated Critchfield.
The West Virginia MetroNews reported that Livengood was suspended for the rest of 2018 without pay.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Lee Livengood Demanded Michael Critchfield ‘Prove’ He Was a Boy
The ACLU wrote in a letter to Manchin that Critchfield was using an unoccupied boys’ restroom when Livengood came in and demanded to know why he was there.
According to the letter, Critchfield explained that he was a boy and no one else was using the bathroom. Livengood allegedly responded by challenging Critchfield to “use the urinal to prove he was a boy.”
According to the letter, Livengood blocked the door so that the teen could not leave.
According to the ACLU, Critchfield and his parents discussed the issue with school administrators prior to freshman year. He was allegedly told that he could not use the boys’ bathroom.
2. Lee Livengood Berated Michael Critchfield to Tears, ACLU Says
According to the letter from the ACLU, Livengood shouted at Critchfield so loudly that other students could hear.
“Mr. Livengood continued to berate Michael, his voice rising, asking Michael what would happen if another boy thought Michael was checking him out,” the letter said. “Michael’s classmates later told him they could hear Mr. Livengood yelling from outside the restroom in the hallway and cafeteria.”
According to the ACLU, the principal continued to misgender the student and eventually told Critchfield, “I’m not going to lie. You freak me out.”
The ACLU says Critchfield “began crying uncontrollably” after the encounter and has continued to have “severe anxiety” since.
ACLU-WV director Joseph Cohen told The Daily Beast that Critchfield had a panic attack when he came back to school after the incident.
3. ACLU Says School Has a ‘Cultural Problem’
The ACLU said Critchfield’s anxiety has been compounded by teachers repeatedly misgendering him. He has also been misgendered in intercom announcements that refer to him by his birth name.
“I think that there’s a cultural problem at the school,” Cohen told The Daily Beast. “This was not just one incident of a bad act by a bad actor.”
The ACLU said they are not looking to sue the school but hope that Livengood will be disciplined.
“We don’t think that litigation is good for anybody in this case,” Cohen told The Daily Beast. “We expect and trust that the district—when they meet with us—will meet with open ears, and that they will want to strive to make Liberty High School and the Harrison County School District a model for all the other schools in the state on what an inclusive and equitable learning environment actually is. So, that is our goal.”
4. Michael Critchfield: ‘All I Want is To Feel Safe’
“A chaperone found out he had me barricaded in the bathroom. By the time she came, I was breaking down and had quivering lips,” Critchfield told the West Virginia Gazette-Mail. “She kept asking me what was wrong and I just kept pushing it off, because she wouldn’t be able to understand with me crying or it just wouldn’t come out right.”
“At the end of the day, all I want is to feel welcome and safe in my school,” Critchfield added in a press release. “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.”
Cohen told The Daily Beast that the incident should draw attention to the mental health needs of transgender teens.
“More than 50 percent of male trans youth attempt suicide,” Cohen told The Daily Beast. “We need to look out for the interests, the safety, health, the mental wellbeing of these students because it’s absolute life-or-death issue.”
5. Superintendent Suspends Lee Livengood Without Pay
Manchin told the West Virginia MetroNews that Livengood has been suspended without pay until 2019.
“I was able to confirm the interaction with Mr. Livengood and that indeed he acted inappropriately. We need to address it and we will address it,” Manchin told the outlet. “Mr. Livengood was contrite. He understood the severity, that it’s a hot button issue, how we need to handle this, he was aware, and unfortunately we didn’t handle it well. He was contrite in understanding that what he did was incorrect so we addressed it.”
Livengood will be allowed to return to school after the holiday break.
“I think that what we needed to do, which I now feel comfortable with, was do a thorough investigation. Everybody’s entitled to due process, and before I make any recommendations, I always like to talk to the individual in question,” Manchin said. “In this instance, I had that opportunity today. I feel comfortable with the recommendation of a suspension.”
“I don’t think more needs to be done,” he added. “This does not reflect on our employees of Harrison County who are incredibly understanding and receptive to all types of students. You know, with 11,000 students, there are a myriad of issues that these students face, not only obviously this but a number of different things, and we recognize the differences and we embrace those differences.”
“Ten, 15, 20 years ago, obviously there were transgender students but we didn’t have to address it. Now we do. We recognize that. We’re evolving, and if we need to go further we will,” he said. “But right now I do not believe the necessity of any additional policies or any protections for any students that we do not already have.”