SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A Utah school district has agreed to pay $2 million to the family of a Black, autistic 10-year-old girl who killed herself after being harassed by her classmates.
The family of Isabella “Izzy” Tichenor blamed her death in 2021 on an inadequate response by school officials to reports that the girl was being bullied over her race and disabilities. The Davis School District announced the settlement on Tuesday.
The lawsuit said that Izzy, the only Black student in her class, was bullied by students at North Salt Lake’s Foxboro Elementary School by classmates who called her the N-word, told her she stank and made fun of her for being autistic. The family said they had reported the bullying to teachers and administrators, who hadn’t stopped the harrasment.
Tichenor’s death came weeks after the district, which educates 73,000 kids north of Salt Lake City and has a student body that is less than 1% Black, was reprimanded by the U.S. Department of Justice for failing to address widespread racial discrimination. It sparked widespread outrage, including from the Utah Jazz, whose then-star shooting guard Donovan Mitchell spoke out about how school officials should’ve done more to stop the racist bullying.
Utah lawmamkers passed legislation requiring districts to track reported bullying and racism in schools. Izzy’s mother, Brittany Tichenor-Cox, pointed to deep-rooted racism in the predominantly white state. The district initially defended its handling of bullying allegations, but launched an independent investigation after Tichenor’s death.
The investigation found “no direct evidence” of Tichenor being bullied specifically because of her race or disabilities but confirmed major parts of the family’s account, including that staff had mistreated Izzy. It recommended policy changes such as training to address and track bullying.
The $2 million amount was approved on Tuesday by a committee at the Utah Legislature that oversees settlements.
“The District is continually assessing and expanding its processes and efforts to better support every student who attends its schools, including implementing trauma- informed counseling and other resources for its students,” it said in a joint statement with the Tichenor-Cox family.
The district did not admit liability or negligence, or announce concrete policy changes. The statement said the district will continue to provide training “and is dedicated to creating environments to encourage open dialogue and discussions that promote mutual learning, respect and empathy, free from any undue pressure on individual students.”
The district also made a public apology Tuesday and announced a separate $200,000 settlement with three Black students who said they experienced daily discrimination.
“Any form of racism, bigotry, discrimination, or harassment within our schools is unacceptable and will not be tolerated. The district encourages anyone who observes a student or staff member being harassed or bullied to report it right away. Reports of bullying will be thoroughly documented, addressed promptly, and appropriate consequences will be administered,” it said.
If you or someone you know needs help, call or text the National Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988. (link: https://988lifeline.org/ ). You can also reach the Crisis Text Line by texting CRISIS to 741741. (link: https://www.crisistextline.org/ ) Organizations like Therapy for Black Kids maintain databases of Black mental health providers: https://www.therapyforblackkids.org/about.html