A 10-year-old black and autistic student living in Utah died by suicide last Saturday, amid reports from the US Department of Justice that her school district had ignored racial harassment complaints.
The Department of Justice released a report in October that revealed officials at the Davis School District in Farmington, Utah, improperly handled instances of racial harassment and ignored complaints filed by Black and Asian American families — the same school district that the girl had attended elementary school in.
Isabella “Izzy” Tichenor had been repeatedly harassed and bullied by classmates at Foxboro Elementary School.
Izzy’s mother, Brittany Clark Tichenor, and her stepfather, Charles Cox, said they became aware of their daughter being bullied back in September.
“They found her taking a bottle of Febreze to school, and when they asked her why they said she said because the kids said she stank,” the family’s attorney Tyler Ayres told CNN.
The only response from the teacher was directing Izzy to sit away from other students in the back of the classroom.
Izzy’s parents had first gone to their daughter’s teacher to report the bullying, but no progress had been made.
Her parents then “went to the principal. The principal turned them to the vice-principal and with the vice principal they felt very unheard and just very disregarded,” Ayers said.
The Davis School District released a statement stating: “The death of Izzy is tragic and devastating. Our hearts continue to be with the family, friends, and community who are grieving this loss. The well-being of our students will always be a priority, and we are committed to preventing this from happening in the future.”
“As part of this commitment, we will be bringing in an independent investigation to look further into this and review our handling of critical issues, such as bullying, to provide a safe and welcoming environment for all students,” the statement continued.
Reports of racism were rife in the school district
In a letter that the DOJ wrote in September to the Utah school district, they outlined how Black students had reported similar experiences throughout the district.
Black and Asian students are roughly 1% of the approximately 73,000 students enrolled in the district.
“White and non-Black students routinely called Black students the n-word and other racial epithets, called them monkeys or apes and said that their skin was dirty or looked like feces,” the letter stated.
Students repeatedly taunted Black students by telling them to “pick cotton,” calling them slaves, and touching or pulling on their hair.
Non-Black students also demanded that their Black classmates give them a pass to say the n-word, and would threaten to physically assault them if they refused.
Also according to the DOJ report, white students used slurs like “yellow” and “squinty” to describe their Asian American classmates as well as making offensive comments towards them, including “Go back to China.”
It was concluded that the Utah school district “deprived students of equal protection” by failing to protect Black and Asian American students from the racial bullying and harassment they endured from their white counterparts.
In October, the DOJ reached a settlement agreement with the Utah school district requiring them to “make significant institutional reforms,” which includes creating a new department to handle race discrimination, as well as increased staff training.
It’s incredibly saddening to know that Izzy’s parents had urged the school to take action in protecting their daughter, and unfortunately, nothing was done to help Izzy.
“Izzy was a happy child. She was a happy little girl, she did well in school … All she wanted was to be connected with family and friends.”