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Investigation of Izzy Tichenor’s death says Foxboro brushed off bullying reports

By Mark Shenefelt - | Apr 4, 2022

Rick Bowmer, Associated Press

Brittany Tichenor-Cox, holds a photo of her daughter, Isabella "Izzy" Tichenor, during an interview Monday, Nov. 29, 2021, in Draper, Utah. Tichenor-Cox said her 10-year-old daughter died by suicide after she was harassed for being Black and autistic at school. She is speaking out about the school not doing enough to stop the bullying.

FARMINGTON — Fifth-grader Izzy Tichenor was harassed by Foxboro Elementary staff and students over her hygiene, but there is no evidence that she was bullied on the basis of race or disability, an outside investigation team hired by the Davis School District has concluded.

The 10-year-old North Salt Lake girl, who was Black and autistic, died by suicide Nov. 6. Her mother, Brittany Tichenor-Cox, alleged the school and district ignored or downplayed her reports of bullying.

The outside investigators agreed.

While the report said it could not document proof of Tichenor-Cox’s allegations, it found multiple systemic failures at Foxboro, such as teachers not understanding the district’s definition of bullying. It also documented an incident of offensive racial conversation among Foxboro staff and resistance to discipline over the matter.

Izzy’s death came just weeks after a U.S. Department of Justice investigation report found a widespread pattern of racism against Black and Asian-American students by other students and staff in the school district. The federal agency ordered sweeping training and systemic changes, which the district is implementing.

Brittany Tichenor-Cox via AP

In this photo provided by Brittany Tichenor-Cox is her daughter, Isabella "Izzy" Tichenor, in May of 2020. The mother of a 10-year-old Utah girl who died by suicide after she says her daughter was harassed for being Black and autistic is speaking out about the school not doing enough to stop the bullying. Brittany Tichenor-Cox told the AP she doesn't trust the school district's outside investigation, relying instead on a separate inquiry her own attorney is doing about what happened.

At Foxboro, the outside team that looked into the circumstances leading up to Izzy’s death said it collected 2,600 pages of documents and interviewed 47 witnesses in 400 hours of work, resulting in the report that was turned over to the district last week.

Izzy and her family were living in their minivan in the time leading up to her death, a summary of the report said. Tichenor-Cox had told the school of their financial plight the month before and had asked for help. School personnel gave them clothing, money and a hygiene kit for Izzy, the report said.

“Issues relating to race, disability and poverty sometimes intersect, and when they do, they can further complicate already challenging situations,” the Foxboro report said. “It can be very difficult to extricate one from the others.”

Accordingly, the report said, “When a student told Izzy that she needed to wash her hair, this comment could have been borne out of racial animus, could have been an innocuous observation, or could have been a cloaked insult about poverty.”

Incidents detailed by the investigation included one in which a Foxboro staff member “used offensive gestures to describe Izzy following her death.” The staff member “refused to acknowledge that it was offensive and refused to sign (a letter) of discipline that administration placed in her file.”

Three staff members participated in a conversation, overheard by others, that the district later found was offensive, the report said regarding another incident. “None of the involved educators felt the consequences were warranted or unfair,” the report said, and investigators found no evidence that the three later received mandated sensitivity training or apologized as ordered to those they had offended.

One teacher told investigators that “when the whole Black Lives Matter thing started” she asked a Black colleague to “educate her” and tell her if she ever “did anything,” according to the report.

“This is unacceptable,” the report said. “It should not be the responsibility of a teacher of color to educate, instruct or correct a peer,” the report said.

Foxboro staff need “empathy” training, plus training to recognize when students may be undergoing trauma resulting from poverty, the report concluded.

One teacher “told Izzy she smelled and asked her if she had taken a shower while Izzy was seated at the same table as her classmates,” the report said. The teacher told investigators that “she made comments to her students about hygiene in the past and did not intend to stop.”

One teacher said students “should not be trained to be ‘victims,'” but rather should be taught to “let hurtful comments ‘roll off their back.'”

Many staff members told investigators they thought bullying is occurring only if there are multiple incidents. District policy says a single incident constitutes bullying. Other staff said they relied on their own perceptions of incidents, one saying they had a “sense” to determine when bullying occurred.

Of Tichenor-Cox’s complaints and Izzy’s experiences during that time, almost none of it was documented in the school’s report system — until the day of her death or later.

The investigation team recommended improvements in the school’s system of receiving, identifying and responding to reports of bullying, and that there should be “clear consequences” for those not complying.

Foxboro “dismissed and failed to timely document” Tichenor-Cox’s concerns, the report said. “As a result, Foxboro failed to conduct the investigation that Izzy was due and deserved.”

The school district issued a statement again expressing sorrow and condolences to Izzy’s family.

“We are studying the report and reviewing its recommendations,” the statement added. “We are taking it seriously.”

Tyler Ayres, Tichenor-Cox’s attorney, declined to comment on the report. “We are doing our own investigation,” he said.


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