Team to investigate discrimination, bullying claims at Utah school after student's suicide

Family, friends and community members gather to commemorate Isabella Faith Tichenor’s life during a prayer vigil at Foxboro Hollow Park in North Salt Lake on Nov. 9. The Davis County School District on Tuesday announced the members of an independent team tasked with reviewing harassment claims made by the family following her death.

Family, friends and community members gather to commemorate Isabella Faith Tichenor’s life during a prayer vigil at Foxboro Hollow Park in North Salt Lake on Nov. 9. The Davis County School District on Tuesday announced the members of an independent team tasked with reviewing harassment claims made by the family following her death. (Jay Hancock, KSL-TV)



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NORTH SALT LAKE — The Davis School District on Tuesday announced members of the independent review team tasked with investigating Davis School District after the death of 10-year-old Izabelle "Izzy" Tichenor, a student at Foxboro elementary, last month.

The announcement comes weeks after the school district's board president John Robison stated that a team would be assembled in the wake of the 5th grader's death. The team will center their investigation on the Tichenor family's claim that Izzy, who was black and had autism, committed suicide after facing discrimination and bullying at school, on the basis of her race and disability.

The family alleged that they made numerous reports to Foxboro Elementary and Davis School District staff regarding the issues — and were ignored.

The independent team members include Brian Garlock, an expert in interviewing children about trauma, Michelle Love-Day, an expert in educational practices and Abby Dizon-Maughan, who is a lawyer.

"The district determined that a review was necessary to follow up on those statements and that the review be outsourced due to the allegations directed at the district. Officials further determined that a team of investigators with various areas of expertise will bring important perspectives that a sole investigator could not," members of the school district and the review team wrote in a memorandum of understanding released Tuesday.

Team members were selected through consultation with "the Department of Justice, members of the Children's Justice Center State Board, mental health professionals, staff at the Utah State Board of Education, special education professionals, and educators actively involved with the Black community," the document states.

The district stated it was in the process of identifying a person with background and expertise in autism spectrum disorders to consult with the review team during the investigation.

In a statement to KSL Wednesday, the Tichenor family acknowledged the effort of the district but expressed doubts regarding the investigation.

"We appreciate this step towards addressing the racial insensitivity exhibited in Davis County School District and Foxboro Elementary. We are skeptical as to whether the investigation will result in significant change without extreme sanctions for those demonstrating the deliberate indifference identified in the DOJ report," the family said in the statement.

Izzy's death came shortly after the Department of Justice released its findings after a two-year review of Davis School District focused on the years of 2015 through 2020. The investigation revealed widespread and serious racial harassment in the district's schools.

But the independent review team's scope will be limited to the allegations of bullying and discrimination and the alleged failure of the officials within the school or district to respond. The review team will not be able to determine legal liability or any legal conclusions regarding state or federal law, the memorandum stated.

The team's investigation will include full access to student information within the district's system, interviews with school staff and students, employment files and Izzy's family, who indicated their willingness through a family attorney. Interviews with students will be primarily focused on those in the fifth and sixth grades. Parents will receive a notice that their child may be interviewed.

"It is the district's expectation that all interviews will be conducted consistent with the mental health industry standard of interviewing children about traumatic situations, and that best practices of the industry with regard to trauma-informed interview techniques are to be applied," they wrote in the memorandum.

Following the team's investigation, the district has asked it to only provide "findings of fact regarding the specific allegations, and offer recommendations regarding processes and practices for receiving and responding to allegations of bullying at Foxboro Elementary School."

Parsons Behle & Latimer, a legal firm obtained by the district to provide legal support and analyses based on the investigation's findings, noted in a letter of engagement that the district has not asked them to analyze the district's manual or practices and procedures for responding to reports of bullying or discrimination.

The firm informed the district in the letter that the district can not "hinder, interfere with or direct the outcome of the investigation" beyond defining a scope for the investigation.

At the conclusion of the investigation, the review team will compile a report with its findings and recommendations. An executive summary of that report will be released to the public, according to the memorandum.

"The Davis School District's main priority right now is the review and allowing the independent investigators to quickly and thoroughly complete their investigation," Christopher Williams, the district's director of communications, said in an email Tuesday. "In order to maintain integrity and independence of the investigation, we ask that the members of the team be allowed to conduct their review without interference from the public."

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