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 988.
The family of Izzy Tichenor — the 10-year-old Black girl whose death by suicide after intense racist bullying at her Utah elementary spurred national outcry — will get $2 million in one of the largest civil rights settlements the state has ever seen.
The agreement with Davis School District was announced Tuesday by email. It brings to an end the high-profile claims that the family said it intended to file in a lawsuit last year, following Izzy’s death in November 2021.
In a joint statement with the family, the district said the loss of Isabella Tichenor — who was affectionally called “Izzy” by those closest to her and who still dreamed up being a Disney character when she grew up — “will always impact our community and school.”
Moving forward, the statement continued: “Davis School District is committed to making schools a safe and welcoming environment for all.”
In a news conference, Brittany Tichenor-Cox, Izzy’s mom, said while she continues to grieve, the resolution was “a long time coming.”
“Just because you win some money, [it] doesn’t compare to the child not being there,” she added.
The payout and the joint statement are part of a “mutual agreement,” Davis School District said. Tyler Ayres, the attorney for Izzy’s family, added that the district has also agreed to put a statue of Izzy inside the library of the elementary school she attended.
“It’s our hope that the next African American student in this school and in this state will see someone who looks like them being celebrated in this statue of Izzy,” he said.
He said while he initially hoped the settlement amount would be larger to “send a bigger message” — the family was asking for $14 million — it was the “right number for right now” that will allow them to move forward without more trauma.
This marks the second settlement involving a racism case that Davis School District has paid for this year. In the same email, the district also said it would pay $200,000 to the families of three students who also experienced discrimination and filed suit in March 2022. As a public school district, the money for those settlements ultimately comes from taxpayer funds.
Izzy’s death brought additional attention to the district, with her death coming just weeks after the U.S. Department of Justice had issued a scathing report about the northern Utah school district’s serious mishandling of reports of racism.
Investigators found that district administrators had intentionally ignored “widespread” racial harassment in its predominantly white schools for years — failing to respond to hundreds of reports from Black students after they had been called slaves, the N-word, and heard threats that they would be lynched. Some employees, the report said, participated in the discrimination.
Just 1% of the district’s 73,000 students are Black.
After her daughter’s death, Tichenor-Cox became an advocate for Izzy and against the racism she said she witnessed firsthand in the school district.
Tichenor-Cox spoke repeatedly about how she had gone to Davis administrators several times before Izzy’s suicide to try to address the bullying she said Izzy had faced from both classmates and her teacher in the fifth grade at Foxboro Elementary. In tears, she recounted several times the abuse she said Izzy endured over the color of her skin and for being autistic.
But each time, Tichenor-Cox said, she was ignored.
“Even though my baby is gone, I’m going to make sure I stand for Izzy,” she said, days after her daughter died on Nov. 6, 2021.
She repeated on Tuesday: “I still want to be able to help a lot of kids out there. I’m going to continue to spread her name.”
Her continued pushing kept the issue in the light and helped push Davis School District to reform in the two years since.
That included the district commissioning an independent investigation into the harassment Izzy faced. The findings of that investigation, released a few months later in April 2022, confirmed Tichenor-Cox’s account and concluded that staff had joined in on the mistreatment of Izzy.
A teacher told Izzy — in front of her classmates — that she smelled and needed to take a shower, the investigation found. And when that teacher was later interviewed by investigators, she claimed Izzy would not have understood the insult because of her “educational delays.”
Another educator openly used “offensive gestures” to refer to Izzy after her death. That same educator had been disciplined months earlier for participating in a racist conversation with other teachers.
The report concluded that the school had brushed off at least one report of abuse and not investigated properly.
“Foxboro failed to conduct the investigation that Izzy was due and deserved,” the report stated.
The report also noted several times when Izzy was bullied by classmates, taunted for her disability, called racists names and told she stunk because of her skin color (echoing the teacher’s comments that the investigators say likely prompted the treatment from her peers). Izzy was also threatened with a gun.
But those encounters were not documented until after her death.
In the aftermath of her suicide and as required by the DOJ, the district has worked to address some of the systemic racism within its schools. It hired Jackie Thompson, a veteran educator and prominent civil rights activist, to oversee reform and offer more training.
She has created a streamlined form for complaints and hired liaisons to go to each school to listen for and investigate concerns. Izzy’s suicide also spurred a bill from the Utah Legislature on tracking bullying statewide.
Some parents and activists have said it has not been enough, though, and it’s not changing the deep-seated culture in an area that is mostly white and largely Latter-day Saint. The district acknowledged in its statement Tuesday that “there is still work to be done.”
“The district is continually assessing and expanding its processes and efforts to better support every student who attends its schools,” it added.
The district declined to comment outside of the statement. They concluded by saying: “Any form of racism, bigotry, discrimination or harassment within our schools is unacceptable and will not be tolerated.”
Ayres, the attorney for Izzy’s family, said Tuesday that he’ll be watching to make sure the district follows the requirements set out by the DOJ to address racism in its schools.
Rae Duckworth, chairperson for the Black Lives Matter chapter in Utah, also spoke at the news conference and urged all schools in the state to bolster mental health resources and to teach kids “proper Black history.” Those lessons, she hopes, will get at the root of the discrimination that’s happening.
She repeated: “Don’t mess with our kids.”