For about an hour on Wednesday, Joe Ingles talked on the phone with Brittany Tichenor-Cox, the mother of a 10-year-old Black Davis School District student — Isabella, or “Izzy” for short — who died by suicide over the weekend after bullying from her classmates and her teacher.
Ingles, the Jazz’s Australian forward, has a 5-year-old son with autism, named Jacob. Izzy also had autism. And Ingles recognized similarities between the two — and worried about his own son’s future in Utah schools.
“Jacob would be a kind of a quote-unquote easy target for other kids because he might be slower at something, or it takes longer to process something in a classroom,” Ingles said. “Jacob doesn’t understand if someone doesn’t like him.”
And Tichenor-Cox related that Izzy, too, lacked the ability to understand why she was being picked on.
“She was so nice to all these bullies, regardless of what they were saying to her,” Tichenor-Cox told Ingles.
And after the two connected about their shared experiences, Ingles made a vow to Tichenor-Cox:
“I promised yesterday that I’ll do everything in my power to get in a room with someone, whether it be the school board superintendent or whatever,” Ingles said. “I’m going to do everything in my power from this day forward to make sure we can make a change in that space.”
Ingles’ promise came after days of revelation about the way Izzy was treated at her North Salt Lake school. Izzy told her mother that her teacher said ‘hi’ to all of the other students, but not to her; that students told Izzy she smelled bad due to her skin color; that students made fun of her disability and the way she looked. Tichenor-Cox reported these incidents to the Davis School District, but felt that little was done about the situation.
In a statement on Monday, the school district said that it was working “extensively with the family.” But on Tuesday, Tichenor-Cox reported that no one from the Davis School District had contacted her since Izzy’s death.
Davis School District’s lack of response led Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell to also express dismay at Izzy’s story.
“It’s mind-boggling,” he said. “It’s sad. It’s vile, disgusting. People sat there and let this continue to get to a point where a 10-year-old girl kills herself.”
The death followed by about two weeks a Department of Justice report that resulted from an investigation into multiple racist incidents that happened at the school district — from students and teachers alike. The DOJ report found a pattern of underwhelming and nonexistent responses into the incidents from school administrators.
Mitchell has worked with Black students who suffered from bullying in other parts of Utah; like Pleasant Grove’s Luc Holdaway, who found horse manure dumped on his car on his birthday.
“As a Black male in the state, a prominent Black male in this state, I feel like it’s my job to speak for people who don’t necessarily have a voice,” Mitchell said. “I just want to continue to shed light on things like this, because this happens far too much.”
Both Ingles and Mitchell say they’re planning their next steps, along with teammates like Mike Conley and Royce O’Neale, who have also expressed a desire to make a change. The Utah Jazz Foundation donated $50,000 to Izzy’s family, through GoFundMe. And the team held a moment of silence ahead of their matchup against the Indiana Pacers on Thursday.
For now, they’re first sending condolences and support to Izzy’s family, and expressing heartbreak about the incident — but they pledge to take meaningful steps to prevent this from happening to other students.
“It’s disgusting that it had to end like this for Izzy and her family,” Ingles said. “At the moment, the teacher of that class is still at school. The kids that were bullying her are still going to school. And Izzy’s family are the only people that are really living a different life to what everyone else is right now.”