CLARKSBURG, W.Va. - After months of discussion, The American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia (ACLU-WV) and Fairness West Virginia (Fairness WV) announced today that talks have stalled with Harrison County Schools regarding a November 2018 incident involving the verbal abuse of a transgender high school student at the hands of an assistant principal.
ACLU-WV and Fairness WV demanded an initial meeting with the school system in response to a November 2018 incident involving Michael Critchfield, a transgender high school student, who was bullied and harassed by assistant principal Lee Livengood in one of the boys’ restrooms at Liberty High School. The goal of the January 2019 meeting was to put in place concrete steps to create a supportive, bully-free environment for Michael and other LGBTQ students attending Harrison County Schools.
“Leaving that meeting, we were very confident that we had reached an agreement that would not only protect Michael but also change the status quo at Liberty High School,” says Loree Stark, ACLU-WV Legal Director. “What has transpired since then does little to convince anyone involved that the administration, the Harrison County Board of Education or Lee Livengood are taking this incident seriously.”
The agreed upon terms included: establishing a gay straight alliance (GSA) at Liberty High School, prohibiting Livengood from direct or indirect contact with Michael, requiring Livengood to provide Michael with a written apology, instituting best practice trans-inclusive policies and requiring county-wide LGBTQ sensitivity training for faculty and staff. Harrison County Schools has been unwilling to agree that Livengood no longer be in contact with any children as a condition of his reinstatement.
Although ACLU-WV has attempted to work in good faith with the school system to finalize the agreed-upon terms, no resolution has been reached on most of the items, in particular the institution of appropriate trans-inclusive policies, discussed at the meeting.
Further troubling is the apology letter from Livengood to Michael, which in its entirety states, “I am deeply sorry for raising my voice while in the bathroom on 11/27/18. I promise it won’t happen again.” Following the meeting and Livengood’s reinstatement, he was also functioning as monitoring faculty during Michael’s lunch period - a direct conflict with the agreed-upon terms. The school only removed him from that role after receiving an email from the ACLU-WV.
“We do not have any reason to believe at this point that the administration or Board of Education are willing to move forward and put into place meaningful changes that reflect the agreement we reached at our meeting,” says Stark. “We’ve continued to follow up and demand that the Board and the administration put the students’ needs first and right this wrong. That Mr. Livengood’s apology falls woefully short of addressing his abhorrent conduct toward Michael demonstrates a complete lack of accountability on the part of Mr. Livengood, the administration and the Board. At this point, we’re exploring all of our options with Michael and his family.”
Michael continues to attend Liberty High School alongside Livengood.
“I refuse to allow the Board of Education and Assistant Principal Livengood to sweep what happened to me under the rug,” says Michael Critchfield. “Since the incident in the bathroom, I have seen little effort from the administration to create real change and ensure this never happens again. That is a slap in the face to me and unacceptable for all LGBTQ students in Harrison County.”