SALT LAKE CITY – The family of a Black fifth grader in Utah who died by suicide last year plans to file a $14 million lawsuit against her school, arguing that an inadequate response to reports of her being bullied over her race and disabilities led to her death.
Attorneys representing Brittany Tichenor-Cox on Wednesday said they would seek damages for the 2021 death of her daughter, Isabella “Izzy” Tichenor. In a notice of claim, they said the school had violated state and federal laws, including those that require schools ensure equal treatment, provide educational opportunity and protect students experiencing homelessness.
Notices of claim are required before people can sue government entities and the family’s claim said that the lawsuit will seek $14 million in damages. The notice of claim from Tichenor-Cox names Foxboro Elementary School in North Salt Lake City as a defendant, as well as its director and principal. It also names as defendants the Davis School District, school board and superintendent. They have 60 days to respond before the family can file a lawsuit based on the claim.
“We appreciate the interest on the case, but until we carefully review it and confer with legal counsel, our district will not be able to comment further,” Chris Williams, spokesperson for the Davis School District, said in a statement after the notice of claim was filed.
Tichenor's death in November 2021 sparked massive outcry and a groundswell of anger over youth suicide, bullying and the treatment of children with autism. In Utah, a predominantly white state where incidents of racism in schools frequently make headlines, it prompted state legislators to pass a new law requiring districts to track reported bullying and racism in schools.
The notice of claim recounts how Tichenor, who was autistic and the only Black student in her class, was bullied by students who said she smelled, made fun of her skin color, eyebrows and used racist slurs against her. It provides a timeline of Tichenor's parents repeatedly alerting the school of bullying in the months leading up to their daughter's death and alleges administrators did not take action to stop it.
“As a result of this unchecked bullying and the school's overall ‘deliberate indifference’ to minority students, Izzy failed nearly all her classes. At the time of her death, she could barely read or do math on a first-grade level,” it says.
The Davis School District teaches roughly 73,000 students in Salt Lake City's north suburbs. Only about 1% are Black. It was reprimanded last year by the U.S. Department of Justice for failing to address widespread racial discrimination and forced to as part of a settlement agreement change its policies, offer more training and establish a new department to handle complaints.
The district defended its actions last year after Tichenor’s death, arguing it had responded to Tichenor's family appropriately and “worked extensively" with them over their complaints.
Brady McCombs contributed reporting from Salt Lake City.