A 10-year-old autistic child took her own life last Saturday after family said she had been bullied by other students at Foxboro Elementary in North Salt Lake, Utah.
The family of Isabella “Izzy” Tichenor believes she was a target for others in her class due to her race, having dyslexia, and being on the autism spectrum.
The girl’s mother, Brittany Tichenor, said her daughter was frequently bullied and belittled at the school, and “nothing was done to protect Izzy” after the conduct was reported to school officials.
According to family attorney Tyler Ayres, Isabella’s mother and stepfather became aware of the bullying 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,” Ayres told CNN, adding her teacher instructed her to sit away from other students in the back of the classroom.
Ayres also said the kids allegedly used the n-word and teased Izzy repeatedly.
The child’s parents initially lodged a complaint about the bullying with her teacher, but “when they realized that they weren’t making any progress … they 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,” Ayres said.
The Board of Education of the Davis School District and the Foxboro Elementary shared the following press release on media regarding Isabella’s death:
“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.
“We also want to provide resources to our students and community who may be struggling with this loss. The tragedy of suicide can be far-reaching, and it’s not uncommon to feel grief for the loss of someone you have never met, especially if there’s a feeling of shared commonality.
“We want to encourage parents to stay connected to their kids, especially during this time, and talk with them about their mental health and well-being. Feelings of depression, bullying, harassment, vulnerable living situations, feelings of isolation, and addictions are significant problems for children and youth. The district has trained licensed therapists available to talk to and process these feelings and help parents facilitate these conversations.”
Isabella’s tragic death comes just weeks after the Justice Department publicly detailed a disturbing pattern where Black and Asian American students at the Davis School District in Farmington, Utah, were harassed for years, and officials deliberately ignored complaints from parents and students.
According to the DOJ report, Black and Asian American students are each roughly 1 percent of the approximately 73,000 students enrolled in the district.
The investigation found that Davis administrators repeatedly ignored or dismissed student reports of racial harassment by other students and by school employees. Students of color also were disciplined more severely than white kids, and they were not allowed to form student groups.
“Some students, now in middle and high school, said they had experienced racial harassment each year since they were in kindergarten,” the DOJ report noted. “Students who attended school in other districts told us that the harassment they experienced in Davis schools was worse by far.”
“The only thing that the family really wants to do is make sure that the system is impacted by this terrible occurrence and then and in order to impact the system, it’s going to require that the school district cough up a huge sum of money so that they know that they can never afford to do it again,” Ayres said.
If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts or exhibiting warning signs, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or the Utah Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255, which is answered 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, by crisis counselors at Huntsman Mental Health Institute.
You can also text TALK to 741741, and parents, students, and educators can download the SafeUT app chat or call 833-3SAFEUT to connect with a licensed crisis counselor.