Attorney asks Harrison BOE to reconsider contract non-renewal of administrator accused of harassing transgender student

MORGANTOWN — An attorney representing the Harrison County school administrator accused of harassing a transgender student has asked the Board of Education to reconsider its decision to not renew the administrator’s contract, based on information not previously made public.

That information, the attorney says, includes eyewitnesses statements contradicting previously revealed details, and an apology letter the administrator was forced to rewrite to remove exculpatory facts.

The Harrison County superintendent, however, contends that the board was within its rights because the contract was probationary and it’s not unusual to not renew such contracts.

As MetroNews previously reported, the board voted on Tuesday not to renew the contract of Liberty High School Assistant Principal Lee Livengood, whose contract expires June 30.

Livengood allegedly bullied sophomore Michael Critchfield, a transgender student who identifies as male, while Critchfield was in the male restroom last year.

Morgantown attorney Alex Shook sent a letter on Thursday to Harrison Superintendent Mark Manchin asking the board to reconsider.

He says, “As we all know, this decision was based upon the controversy involving the incident with the transgender student. The Board’s investigation into the incident, and information provided to the public, the student, and ACLU were lacking in several regards.”

First, he writes, at least three faculty witnesses saw or heard all or part of the incident, including one who was right outside the restroom door and heard all of it. Shook interviewed all three and all three say Livengood never said anything bullying or derogatory.

None of those three witnesses, Shook writes, were asked to give statement to the board’s investigator and only one was interviewed.

Second, Shook writes, Livengood had no previous contact with Critchfield and did not know he was transgender.

Most important, Shook writes, Livengood was never made aware of a private arrangement Critchfield made with the school principal to use male restrooms, and neither were two of the three faculty witnesses.

“This entire incident could have been avoided had the Principal informed Mr. Livengood that the student had an arrangement to use the boys’ restrooms,” he says.

Shook attached to his letter copies of an email exchange between Livengood and Dora Stutler, Harrison Schools personnel supervisor.

On Jan. 22, Livengood sent Stutler an apology letter to convey to Critchfield. It reads: “I am deeply sorry for raising my voice during our conversation while trying to find out why you were in the boy’s bathroom. At the time of the incident in question, I had no idea of your identity status, nor was I made aware that you had an arrangement with another administrator that you were permitted to use the boy’s bathroom. I want you to know that I respect your rights and I care about you also.”

On Jan. 29, a week later, Stutler responds: “I just received an email from WV ACLU and they are requesting that your apology just be in your handwriting and they will give that to Michael. … I would suggest that this apology just be a sentence or two saying that you are deeply sorry for raising your voice and not include that you did not know. Dr. Manchin has addressed that with Mrs. Knight [Liberty Principal Pamela Knight] and does not feel this needs to be presented to Michael. He wants it to be very simple.”

As reported by MetroNews, Liviengood’s revised letter reads: “I am deeply sorry for raising my voice while in the bathroom on 11/27/18. I promise it won’t happen again.”

Shook comments in his letter, “I find it very disturbing that you directed Mr. Livengood to remove that very information from the ‘apology’ he was forced to write under threat of losing his job. I don’t want to guess as to your intentions in directing Mr. Livengood to remove that information from his forced apology, but I think it was a disservice to the board, the public, and, most of all, the student.

“It clearly set Mr. Livengood to be the fall guy rather than shed light on the fact that there was a serious lack of communication within the administration, and that the board lacked a coherent and consistent policy for transgender students.”

In a phone interview, Shook said Livengood has been an educator for 16 years and has met and dealt with a number of transgender students and many students who identify in many ways. He’s never before, to his knowledge, had any complaint lodged against him and he’s never been suspended or disciplined.

Shook writes that despite Livengood’s efforts to cooperate and apologize, “the student and the public have been misinformed, and the matter has been allowed to fester. Mr. Livengood’s reputation has been unfairly excoriated across all forms of media and he has received multiple threats on his home phone.”

Shook said in the phone interview that the letter is an attempt to seek resolution without threatening or resorting to litigation. “All of this could have been prevented if the arrangement was made known” at least to other administrators.

Manchin response

Manchin said he has received and reviewed the letter.

He said it’s important to understand the distinction between termination and non-renewal.

Livengood was not terminated because of the incident, he said. Probationary contracts can be non-renewed without cause. All boards have this power and it’s not uncommon for them to use it. The Harrison board also chose to non-renew two other contracts.

“We exercised that which is available to us,” Manchin said.

He said they are still considering how to respond to Shook’s letter and have made no determination yet.

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