A Black fifth grader with autism has died by suicide after reportedly suffering harassment while attending a Utah school district that garnered scrutiny for ignoring the long-term bullying experienced by its Black and Asian student body.
Driving the news: Isabella “Izzy” Faith Tichenor, 10, was found by her family hanging in a closet on Nov. 6. Prior to her death, her family says she had been “belittled and bullied” at Foxboro Elementary School in North Salt Lake, according to KUTV.
- Brittany Tichenor-Cox, Izzy’s mother, said she had reached out to teachers, school officials and Davis School District to talk about how Izzy’s peers had been mistreating her, but those complaints fell on deaf ears. “Nothing. Nothing was done to protect Izzy. Children did not have their behavior corrected, so the torment of this child continued day after day,” Tichenor-Cox told KUTV.
- Izzy believed her teacher did not like her and treated her differently than other classmates, KSL reported. At one point, after purchasing air freshener for her classroom in response to a comment made by the teacher, Izzy was further bullied by classmates, according to her mother.
- Family, friends and supporters held a vigil on Nov. 9 to honor Izzy’s memory and call for an end to bullying. A GoFundMe page set up to help her family has raised more than $143,000 as of Nov. 17.
- In an official statement, Davis School District said they are “devastated” over Izzy’s death and vowed to continue investigating the matter. “Our hearts go out to the family. Foxboro Elementary has worked extensively with the family and will continue to provide help to them and others impacted by this tragedy. We take all incidents and reports of bullying seriously.”
The big picture: Izzy’s death came about two weeks after the Justice Department released the results of a two-year investigation into Davis School District’s mismanagement of racial harassment reports. Investigators found that officials intentionally ignored such cases, dating back to 2017 and even specifically targeted Black and Asian students in its “enforcement of discipline policies and practices.”
- Black students reported being called the N-word and other racial epithets by white and other non-Black students. They were also called monkeys or apes and told that their skin was dirty or looked like feces. Bullies also made statements such as “you are my slave” and “go pick cotton.” Such incidents, which included physical assaults, took place on a daily or weekly basis.
- Asian students also suffered racially infused insults by white students who called them “yellow” and “squinty” and were told to “go back to China,” a phrase used repeatedly against the wider Asian American community throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Davis School District has about 73,000 students, according to latest figures. Of those, 82% are white, while Black and Asian students are the smallest minority groups, each making up just 1% of the student population, according to the Salt Lake Tribune.
- The Justice Department has since announced a settlement to address racial harassment in the school district. “Pervasive racial harassment and other forms of racial discrimination in public schools violate the Constitution’s most basic promise of equal protection,” Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Civil Rights Division said in a statement. “This agreement will help generate the institutional change necessary to keep Black and Asian American students safe. We look forward to Davis demonstrating to its students and school community that it will no longer tolerate racial discrimination in its schools.”
Featured Image via Tichenor Family