HEALTH

Davis School District will investigate suicide of autistic girl

Nov 16, 2021, 7:56 PM | Updated: Jan 4, 2022, 8:46 am
(Undated photo of Isabella "Izzy" Tichenor.  Family photo)...
(Undated photo of Isabella "Izzy" Tichenor. Family photo)
(Undated photo of Isabella "Izzy" Tichenor. Family photo)

FARMINGTON, Utah — The Davis School District is announcing more steps they’re taking to investigate the suicide of a 10-year-old autistic girl.  The girl’s family says she was constantly bullied at school about her autism and her skin color.

Suicide of autistic girl

Izzy Tichenor took her own life in early November and officials with the Davis School District, once again, stated their condolences for the family.  At the beginning of the regularly scheduled board of education meeting, Board President John Robison read a statement. It said they’ll continue to provide support to her family and “the school community” as they find a way to move forward.

Robison said, “Extensive resources were provided to the family since enrolling their children.  In fact, the family chose to continue having their children attend our schools after moving outside the district.”

Robison added that there is a process to evaluate and investigate claims of harassment. Each case is handled either at the school level or the district level, depending on the severity of each accusation.

“Every incident of harassment and bullying is investigated,” Robison said.

“Serious and widespread racial harassment”

In October, the Department of Justice issued a scathing report about a “culture of racism” within the district.  Black students say non-black students called them the N word on a regular basis. They were also frequently told their skin looked dirty.  District Superintendent Reid Newey said they fully accept the DOJ findings, and will strive to change the culture.

(Members of the Davis School District Board of Education, after they spoke about their independent team that will investigate the suicide. Photo: Adam Sotelo, KSL TV)

“We don’t, and have never, pretended or suggested that we don’t have racism in our schools. Just like we have it in society,” Newey said.

District officials also announced more details about an independent team they’re forming to investigate what led to Tichenor’s suicide.  That team will have an expert on interviewing children about trauma, an expert in educational practices and a legal expert.  Newey couldn’t confirm an exact date on when this team will be formed. However, he said they’re close to selecting the team members.

Newey said, “We do a significant and very dissecting analysis of what could have been missed by us.”

The impact of bullying on kids with autism

Doctors with University of Utah Health and the Huntsman Mental Health Institute say bullying is damaging to anyone who experiences it. But it can be especially traumatic for kids on the autism spectrum.  Occupational and Recreational Therapies Assistant Professor Anne Kirby said many people wrongly assumed autistic children didn’t understand if they were being bullied.

“I think we’re learning more and more that that’s not the case,” Kirby said.

Children on the spectrum are reportedly 1.5 times more vulnerable to suicide, according to Kirby. 

She said, “Our research, that we’ve done here in Utah, found that autistic women and girls, in particular, were at increased risk compared to non-autistic women and girls.”

Many children don’t want to talk with their parents about being bullied, believing the parents will just make matters worse.  Neuropsychologist Scott Lagenecker says parents will have to keep a close eye on their child’s behavior to spot any possible signs.  For instance, many kids who are targeted lose their motivation to go to school.

Lagenecker said, “It comes across in very subtle ways.  If they have trouble falling asleep at night, that may be because they’re worrying about the bullying.”

If a child isn’t feeling safe at school, doctors say parents need to find other groups or places where a child feels comfortable expressing themselves.  They say helping kids feel comfortable in their own skin could help mitigate the amount of bullying they see.

Izzy’s parents respond

The Tichenor family responded to the news the Davis School District is forming an independent investigation through their lawyer.  

They said they want to help in the fight against racism alongside the school district.  But made it clear that can’t happen in Davis County schools if the District doesn’t take responsibility for its inability to teach students about acceptance.  

Here is the full statement through their attorney, Tyler Ayers:

The family of Izzy Tichenor, while appreciative of the Districts interest and concern for Izzy now, simply wish the statement they issued today, reflected their attitude and actions three weeks ago.

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Davis School District will investigate suicide of autistic girl