Amid ‘personal trauma,’ investigation finds ‘failures to protect Izzy’ at school
Amid 10-year-old Izzy Tichenor’s personal trauma, educators dismissed her mom’s report of bullying and failed to timely document concerns
In the months prior to her death by suicide, 10-year-old Isabella “Izzy” Tichenor and her family were displaced and living in the family minivan, according to a newly released investigative report.
Tichenor, a fifth grader at Foxboro Elementary School in the Davis School District, was described by witnesses as a happy and friendly child who always had a smile on her face, according to the report.
“She made her friends laugh and enjoyed — and was good at — four square. Despite her friendly demeanor, Izzy had been suffering personal trauma. The evidence gathered by the Team strongly suggests that, at the beginning of the 2021-2022 school year, Izzy and her family were displaced and living in the family minivan. Foxboro was unable to confirm or verify that the Tichenor-Cox family was unsheltered,” the report states.
The independent review team’s report regarding allegations of harassment, bullying and discrimination based on race and disability against Isabella Tichenor found no direct evidence to support allegations that she was bullied at on the basis of race and/or disability.
In the course of the investigation, the team became aware of documented complaints that Izzy was bullied over her personal hygiene. However, the report notes the team was authorized by the district to review only race-based or disability-based bullying.
However, the three-person investigative team noted that “issues relating to race, disability, and poverty sometimes intersect and when they do, can further complicate already challenging situations. It can be very difficult to extricate one from the others.”
For instance, Izzy, who was Black, had one or more diagnosed disabilities and experienced unstable housing.
“Either could have contributed to the cause of her hygiene problems. When a student told Izzy 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,” the report states.
The review was conducted by team members Abby Dizon-Maughan, an attorney with the Salt Lake law firm Parsons Behle & Latimer; Brian Garlock, a licensed clinical social worker who is an expert in interviewing children about trauma; and education consultant Michelle Love-Day, considered an expert in education equity.
The team, retained by the school district, started its work in November 2021 and the school district received its report on March 30 and released an executive summary of the report to news outlets the evening of April 1.
The team’s report represents more than 400 combined hours of work, the examination of more than 2,600 pages of documents and 47 interviews.
In a statement by the school district released with the report, the school district reiterated its condolences to Izzy Tichenor’s family and thanked the review team for its work and diligence.
“We are studying the report and reviewing its recommendations. We are taking it seriously,” the statement said. “We vow to continue our ongoing and extensive efforts to foster a welcoming environment for all students in the Davis School District.”
According to the investigative team’s findings, “Foxboro (Elementary School) knew of allegations that Izzy’s sibling was the target of racial slurs and Foxboro investigated those allegations and responded.”
It continued, noting that interviews of staff “did not demonstrate actual knowledge of the District’s definition of ‘bullying’” and Foxboro failed to timely document or record reports of bullying, administrator or educator interventions, and/or communications with the Tichenor family.”
The investigation determined that “nearly every note” in Izzy’s Encore (student information system) record made during the 2021-22 school year was entered the day her mother, Brittany Tichenor-Cox, informed the school that Izzy had attempted to take her life or later.
The report states that Izzy attempted suicide on Nov. 3 and she died of her injuries Nov. 6.
“Out of respect for the Tichenor-Cox family, the details of her attempt and death will not be discussed here,” the report states.
The investigative team also determined that Foxboro Elementary School administrators “failed to timely document in the offending student’s Encore records Mrs. Tichenor-Cox’s complaints that the student bullied Izzy’s sister. The only notes from the 2021-2022 school year that were contemporaneously entered were for events regarding or relating to Izzy’s suicide attempt and death.”
The family’s attorney, Tyler Ayres, did not respond to emails seeking comment.
The independent investigation revealed interviews with several witnesses who commented that Izzy came to school dirty and malodorous. “Izzy’s teachers spoke about Izzy’s hygiene issues, either directly to Izzy or generally among the students without identifying her,” the report said.
At one point, Izzy sprayed Febreze on herself before going to school the following day after hearing these comments, the report said.
Izzy’s mother told her teacher that her comments hurt Izzy’s feeling and to stop making such remarks because the teacher did not know about the students’ personal circumstances, the report states.
“This teacher, however, dismissed Mrs. Tichenor-Cox’s concerns. The teacher told Mrs. Tichenor-Cox that she made comments to her students about hygiene in the past and did not intend to stop,” the report states.
While the report was critical of the school’s record keeping and school personnel’s apparent lack of knowledge of the school district’s definition of ‘bullying,’ it noted a school social worker’s interactions with Izzy prior to her death.
“After Mrs. Tichenor-Cox told the family social worker that Izzy took her teacher’s comments personally, the family social worker met with Izzy. Izzy told the family social worker she believed her teacher was talking about her when she told the class they smelled. The family social worker commiserated with Izzy and acknowledged that her living situation must be stressful. After talking with Izzy, the family social worker put together a hygiene pack to give to Izzy, which Izzy happily accepted,” according to the report.
In September 2021, Tichenor-Cox told school personnel that her family was “struggling financially, they had unstable housing, and that they needed support,” the report states.
“In response to the family’s request, Foxboro located funding, clothing, and other supplies to donate to the Tichenor-Coxes. Foxboro also provided a hygiene pack for Izzy.”
The review team concluded that the Foxboro school did care about the Tichenor-Coxes and provided them support as the family experienced housing instability.
“Those at Foxboro who spoke to Izzy with compassion and acted diligently as an advocate for the Tichenor-Cox family should be commended. It is without a doubt that Izzy’s death impacted the Foxboro community in immeasurable ways,” the report stated.
That said, “the school’s support does not, however, excuse what the team saw as failures to protect Izzy Tichenor.”
“To cultivate the safe community Foxboro strives to embody, administrators and educators should investigate every allegation of bullying, regardless of purported ground or perpetrator. Mrs. Tichenor-Cox reported at least one incident that she believed constituted bullying to Foxboro. Foxboro had an obligation and responsibility to Izzy to investigate Mrs. Tichenor-Cox’s report. Yet, Foxboro dismissed and failed to timely document her concern. As a result, Foxboro failed to conduct the investigation that Izzy was due and deserved.”
Approximately two weeks prior to Izzy Tichenor’s death, the Department of Justice announced results of the two-year probe during which Black students in the Davis School District told investigators that they were routinely called the N-word or other racial epithets by non-Black students, and they were told that their skin was dirty or looked like feces, according to a DOJ news release.
“Many Black students said the harassment was so pervasive and happened so often in front of adults that they concluded school employees condoned the behavior and believed reporting it further would be futile,” the DOJ said.
The DOJ investigation noted Davis District’s “ineffective response” to incidents of racial harassment “for years.”
As part of its settlement with the Department of Justice the school district has embarked on multifaceted reforms that will span several years. Some of the requirements include creating a new department to handle complaints of race discrimination; training staff on how to identify, investigate and respond to complaints of racial harassment and discriminatory discipline practices; and informing students and parents of how to report harassment and discrimination.