The ACLU-WV received a call from a troubled mother in late November 2018. Caroline Critchfield contacted ACLU-WV after her son, Michael, a transgender 15-year-old boy, had been harassed by an assistant principal while using the boys’ restroom at Liberty High School in Harrison County.
The details of the incident are disturbing: The assistant principal had followed Michael into the boys' restroom shortly after the conclusion of the school day, and Michael went into a stall. He challenged Michael, telling him that if he were really a boy "he could come out here and use the urinal."
Michael, stressed by the situation, told the assistant principal that he was assigned as a female at birth, but that he identifies as male. When Michael left the stall, the assistant principal blocked the doorway to the exit of the restroom, and Michael could not exit the restroom without some kind of confrontation.
The assistant principal continued to press Michael, his voice escalating, asking Michael what would happen if another boy thought Michael was checking him out. Michael’s classmates later told him that they could hear the administrator yelling from outside the restroom in the hallway and cafeteria.
At this point, the administrator allowed Michael to leave the restroom and an adult parent, who had been told that something was happening by Michael’s classmates, was waiting outside the door to the restroom. Stressed and angry, Michael began crying uncontrollably.
Before Michael left to return to the bandroom with the adult, the assistant principal said, “I’m not going to lie, you freak me out.”
Despite pleas from Michael's mother to the school district's administration, no action was taken to protect Michael in the following days and weeks. In December, ACLU-WV sent a letter to the school district's superintendent outlining the issues---specifically, that the assistant principal's conduct was in violation of the U.S. Constitution, federal civil rights statutes, West Virginia state law, and the Harrison County School District’s own stated policies.
Michael’s story quickly became national news, making headlines in publications including The Washington Post, Out magazine, and the Huffington Post. Meanwhile, people in West Virginia and across the country rallied to support Michael on social media and by contacting the school board to share their concerns about what happened. An event was planned for mid-January at West Virginia University to support Michael and to celebrate his 16th birthday.
In January 2019, ACLU-WV, along with a representative from Fairness West Virginia and Michael's parents, met with the Harrison County School District's superintendent. ACLU-WV, Fairness West Virginia, and the Critchfields left the meeting believing some agreements had been reached and that Harrison County Schools would work in good faith with ACLU-WV to adopt best-practice trans-inclusive policies that would benefit students like Michael. These policies would include ensuring that students are referred to by the appropriate pronoun and treated in accordance with their correct gender. Additionally, it was agreed that the assistant principal would not be in a setting where he could interact with Michael.
ACLU-WV has sought to work in good faith with the administration of Harrison County Schools to put in place policies that would support Michael and other students like him. Unfortunately, it became clear to ACLU-WV that the administration would not adopt policies that were in the best interest of trans children. In particular, the administration required that a parent or guardian get involved as soon as any student identified themselves to the school as trans and asked to be referred to by their chosen name and pronouns. ACLU-WV pointed out that a parental notification requirement would essentially “out” students to parents and guardians who may not already have been aware and who may not be supportive. ACLU-WV expects Harrison County Schools to come back to the table to discuss implementing fair and reasonable policies that will create a safe and supportive environment for LGBTQ+ students.