Gov. Cox calls Utah girl’s suicide a ‘tragedy,’ says he is confident in Davis School District’s action

He said he has “full confidence” in school district officials.

(Kristin Murphy | Pool) Gov. Spencer Cox speaks with media during the PBS Utah governor's monthly news conference at the Eccles Broadcast Center in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Nov. 18, 2021.

Editor’s note • This article discusses suicide. If you or people you know are at risk of self-harm, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline provides 24-hour support at 1-800-273-8255.

Gov. Spencer Cox expressed heartbreak Thursday for Isabella “Izzy” Tichenor, a Davis School District fifth-grader who endured bullying for being Black and autistic before she died by suicide on Nov. 6, her mother has said.

In a monthly news conference, during which the Utah governor spoke on a number of subjects, Cox said he met last week with Izzy’s mother, Brittany Tichenor-Cox, and other members of the 10-year-old’s family, calling her death an “awful, terrible tragedy.”

He also met with Davis School District Superintendent Reid Newey and other local leaders to discuss plans to address a U.S. Department of Justice report, released just a few weeks before Izzy’s death, which showed the district had intentionally ignored hundreds of reports of racial harassment.

“I left that meeting with full confidence in the superintendent and in the direction they are moving to address this,” Cox said.

Izzy’s mother has said that she reached out to the district several times to discuss the bullying of Izzy from both her teacher and classmates, but the abuse was allowed to continue without intervention.

During a school board workshop meeting Tuesday, Newey said Izzy’s family “never approached the district, per se,” and that it happened at the school level, at Foxboro Elementary. The district is in the process of selecting a team to investigate, which will include an expert in child trauma, an expert in educational practices and an expert in law, according to a statement.

Cox on Thursday noted that “there are some great things happening in the school district.” He called Newey one of the best superintendents in the state. The Department of Justice report makes it “really easy to point the finger” at Davis School District, Cox continued.

“These issues are not just Utah issues,” Cox said of students experiencing racism. “They are issues in our country and it is incumbent on every single one of us to have a conversation with our children.”

Newey on Tuesday said the district accepts the DOJ findings. But he said that the district has a strong track record of addressing such allegations with urgency, and that officials are taking the situation seriously.

Cox on Thursday said that he would address recent reports of racism the next time that he meets with the Utah School Superintendents Association. He added that parents need to model good behavior and talk to their children about racism, bullying and treating people with love and respect.

“You don’t model good behavior by showing up at school board meetings and threatening people,” Cox said. “That’s not OK. Kids will see that type of harassment and bullying and mimic that.”