A 10-year-old Black girl who was a student in a Utah school district that had been the subject of a federal racism investigation hanged herself over the weekend, leaving her family distraught over what they say were unanswered calls to address bullying.
The girl’s mom, Brittany Tichenor, said she had contacted the Davis School District “multiple times” to discuss how her daughter Isabella was mistreated by her peers after starting fifth grade just months ago. Through sobs, Tichenor described during a news conference the relentless teasing that her daughter—one of just a few Black students at the Foxboro Elementary School—had endured without much help from school administrators.
“Even though my baby is gone, I’m going to make sure that I stand for Izzy,” Tichenor said on Monday. “And I’m going to make sure—for voices that can’t be heard like hers—that this will never happen again to any kid.”
The Salt Lake Tribune first reported on the tragic death of Isabella, who was also autistic, within months of the start of the new school year.
On Saturday, before Isabella took her life, Tichenor said that she had been chatting with her daughter about working on a book report. Tichenor had prepared markers and colored pencils to help, and she said the girl had kissed her cheek and told her she loved her before going into her room. Tichenor, meanwhile, dipped briefly into the garage and said that not even ten minutes had passed before two of her other children found Isabella hanging in her closet.
About a month after starting school, her daughter told her she didn’t believe her teacher liked her because she would greet “all the other kids” in her class but would ignore Isabella.
Tichenor said her daughter had also recounted stories about being teased, and that after her teacher had complained during class that students smelled bad, other kids began taunting her— claiming that it was Isabella. The comments prompted the girl to carry air freshener to school to dispense as perfume, Tichenor said.
A GoFundMe page entitled “Stand for Izzy” was created to raise money for a celebration honoring her life.
Tichenor said efforts to speak to school district officials, who claimed to have addressed her concerns with the principal, went nowhere. She said her seven-year-old daughter, one of Isabella’s siblings, had been called the N-word in September.
It’s not the first time allegations of racism have been leveled against the school district. In September, it said it would ban teachers from displaying LGBTQ pride or Black Lives Matter flags in classrooms and on school grounds because it wanted to stay “neutral” on so-called culture-war topics.
And a month ago, a damning report by the U.S. Justice Department found school officials were “deliberately indifferent” to racial harassment. The findings came to light last month after a two-year investigation into how the Davis School District had documented “hundreds” of cases across dozens of its schools between 2015 and 2020. In some cases, the N-word and other derogatory racial remarks and physical assaults had been used but school officials responded ineffectively, leaving targeted students “vulnerable to continued harassment,” the report found, according to a notice letter issued to the district’s general counsel Benjamin Onofrio.
After the DOJ’s investigation had been launched, a student at Creekside Elementary, another school in the district, dressed in a Nazi costume with a Hitler mustache for a Halloween parade in 2019. The school’s principal and a teacher were subsequently put on paid administrative leave.
Investigators said that investigation under Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 found “persistent failures” to respond to reports of race-based harassment by district employees and other students. It left Black and Asian-American students, who each make up only about 1 percent of the approximately 73,000 students enrolled in the district, with the takeaway message that the district “condoned the behavior,” the Justice Department said in a news release last month.
“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 when the agency announced a settlement to remedy the district’s racial harassment problem. “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.”
It remains unclear, however, how the findings of the report have played out in the weeks since it dropped.
District officials declined to answer The Daily Beast’s questions about what action, if any, would be taken to address issues of racism at Isabella’s school.
The district’s community relations supervisor, Shauna Lund, instead offered the following statement: “We, like everyone, are devastated by the death of this child. 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. At this point, the incident we are aware of involved another student. The teacher and administration responded quickly and appropriately. As with all allegations of bullying, our investigation will continue.”
If you or a loved one are struggling with suicidal thoughts, please reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741.
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