Principal told trans student ‘you freak me out,’ barricaded him in bathroom, ACLU says

A transgender West Virginia teenager was leaving a high school bathroom stall last month when he was confronted, bullied and barricaded in the bathroom by a principal, the student says.

“I’m not going to lie. You freak me out,” Lee Livengood, assistant principal at Liberty High School in Clarksburg, West Virginia, said to transgender 15-year-old Michael Critchfield after the bathroom confrontation, according to the state’s chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Critchfield, a sophomore, was using a boys’ bathroom near the lunch room after school on Nov. 27 before leaving on an out-of-town band trip, the ACLU said in a letter to the superintendent of Harrison County Schools on behalf of Critchfield’s family. Critchfield had even checked before going into the bathroom that no one else was there, he said.

But Livengood was waiting for Critchfield when he got out of the stall, the teen said.

“I saw he was blocking the entrance to the bathroom,” Critchfield said, according to HuffPost. “He kept raising his voice and saying, ‘Why are you in this bathroom? You shouldn’t be here.’”

During the minutes-long encounter, Critchfield told the principal he is a boy, but had been assigned female at birth, the ACLU said.

The assistant principal challenged Critchfield to “come out here and use the urinal” to prove he’s a boy, the ACLU wrote. Livengood also asked what would occur if another boy in the bathroom suspected Critchfield was checking him out, the letter said.

Other students said they could hear the yelling all the way in the school lunch room and hallway. Eventually, Livengood moved and Critchfield could leave the bathroom, the ACLU said.

“Mr. Livengood’s behavior in the bathroom that day was terrifying and no student deserves that kind of treatment,” Critchfield said in a statement released by the ACLU. “I’m telling my story so that high school doesn’t have to be a scary place for kids like me.”

The ACLU’s letter, sent Monday, asks that the school discipline the assistant principal, train teachers and administrators on how to handle transgender issues and come up with district-wide best practice policies to help trans students.

“The fact that this not only occurred on school property, but was perpetrated by a principal at the school is reprehensible,” Joseph Cohen, the West Virginia ACLU’s executive director, said in a statement. “We trust West Virginia schools to care for and educate our children and because of that, they must be held to a higher standard than what Michael experienced.”

On Tuesday, Harrison County Superintendent Mark Manchin said the assistant principal would be suspended with pay for the rest of the week, MetroNews reports.

“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 said, according to MetroNews.

The ACLU said it’s glad the administration admitted wrongdoing, but said a four-day suspension isn’t enough and that the district “needs to make significant changes to its culture.”

Critchfield told his mother about the incident afterward, and she said she was shocked.

“I couldn’t believe my ears,” Caroline Critchfield said, according to the Charleston Gazette-Mail. “I know the hurt my son felt. The humiliation, the misgendering, the dead-naming. The fact that he trapped my son in the bathroom … . I wanted to cry, but I had to be strong for Michael.”

Some teachers have misgendered Critchfield by using the wrong pronouns and refuse to call him Michael, the ACLU said. Announcements over the school intercom use the wrong name — even though his family has reminded the school to call him Michael — “causing Michael stress, embarrassment, and anxiety,” according to the ACLU.

Livengood is accused of using the wrong pronouns for Michael throughout the encounter.

The family spoke to the school about the incident, but didn’t hear back for weeks before the ACLU sent the letter on their behalf, the ACLU wrote.

The superintendent said he doesn’t think the school district needs to do much more to fix the situation.

“I don’t think more needs to be done,” Manchin said, according to MetroNews. “This does not reflect on our employees of Harrison County who are incredibly understanding and receptive to all types of students.”