(ABC4) – For civil rights attorney Tyler Ayres, working on Izzy Tichenor’s case has been especially taxing.
The details of the alleged bullying combined with the tragic loss of the 10-year-old, who committed suicide in early November have been hard to deal with for the experienced lawyer, who has found even more heartache when relating the grieving family’s experience with his own.
“Working on the case has been rough,” Ayres tells ABC4.com. “It’s a very emotional case, it strikes a lot of chords with me, because of my own personal circumstances. Anybody that has kids, one of the biggest things you worry about is, you know, are they happy at school? The Tichenor-Cox family had no idea to the degree that she was unhappy.”
While learning more about Izzy through her parents, Brittany Tichenor-Cox and Charles Cox, Ayres’ sympathy has been compounded as he has reflected on his own heartache. He lost his 17-year-old daughter to illness last summer.
“We’ve really enjoyed getting to know the family, but it’s really painful,” Ayres says. “It’s painful to see their loss, and be reminded of our own.”
Hearing Izzy’s parents relay stories of the race-related bullying that she told them she was suffering at school has also been a challenge for Ayres. Although he is Caucasian, his 14-year-old son is African-American and he has been a firm supporter of the Black Lives Matter movement in Utah and a proponent of civil rights and equality throughout his career.
“These are issues that have been important to me for years. And I do take a particular interest in anything with regard to children, and schools, because I expect my child to be protected in schools,” he explains. “And frankly, I think there is a difference between how I’m treated and how my child is treated, versus how Brittany and Charles were treated as African American parents of African American children. I don’t think they’re given the same regard as I am.”
In meeting with the Tichenor-Coxes, the details of Izzy’s experience at school have been jarring to hear for Ayres. Izzy mentioned bullying involving the use of the N-word to her parents. Her autism and learning disability were also allegedly targeted. Her physical appearance was likewise mocked, according to Ayres.
“They called her ugly, repeatedly,” he says. “She has a beauty mark that I’m sure if you’ve seen in pictures of her, that she wanted to have removed with a razor blade. She felt so self-conscious about that, because of what the kids were doing, that she asked her mom to remove that with a razor blade.”
Ayres says that the teachers and administrators at Foxboro Elementary were aware of the incidents and did little, if nothing, to address concerns raised by the Tichenor-Coxes. The process of reporting the bullying to the school district was also not made readily available to the parents, he states.
“So that causes us some concern as well. How is a person how is a parent supposed to know when or how they can report bullying and racism and other problems if the district fails to inform them?” Ayres asks rhetorically.
Shortly after Izzy’s death, and as the story surrounding the circumstances that led to it became bigger and bigger news, the Davis School District provided a statement given by its Board of Education president, John Robison.
“There are many things we can’t share about our direct interactions with the family because of privacy concerns and professional obligations. Generally speaking, 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. That was because of the relationship they had with our schools and teachers,” Robison said at a school board meeting on Nov. 16.
The District has also stated it will pursue an independent investigation on the alleged bullying and has hired a new assistant superintendent, Dr. Jacqueline Thompson, to work on diversity and equity issues. Davis School District has been under heavy fire as of late, with a separate charge from the Department of Justice (DOJ) earlier this year for “persistent failures to respond to reports of race-based harassment” in hundreds of cases between 2015-2020.
While the District reached a settlement with the DOJ in addition to bringing on additional personnel, Ayres wants to take the case even further in federal court. He plans to build a comprehensive case and investigation, complete with expert witnesses, private investigators, and any other kind of professional deemed necessary.
Knowing that the legal and other fees to build the kind of case he wants to present in federal and state courts could be immense, Ayres has launched a GoFundMe, just to get it started. The Tichenor-Coxes have already been the benefactors of large donation campaign, but Ayres doesn’t wish to request any of that money to get the legal team to work. He also doesn’t want to receive his fee until after a settlement has been reached.
Ayres believes Izzy’s case could be on the same level as the 1954 Supreme Court ruling that found racial segregation in public schools to be unconstitutional.
“This is not a case that we’re taking because we think it’s a big moneymaker. It’s a case we’re taking because we think it will have a similar significance to Brown v. Board of Education, quite frankly,” he says. “We want African-American children and all children to be able to have the best education possible, not just the minimum education required.”
There has already been immense public support for Izzy’s family and outcry against the alleged bullying and indifference by school officials. Even NBA stars such as the Utah Jazz’s Donovan Mitchell and Joe Ingles have voiced their feelings on the matter.
While the support has been appreciated by the family’s lawyer, Aryes says his mission is to make Izzy’s story the last such of its kind.
“The ultimate goal is that we never have to have this conversation again and if any child is being bullied for any reason, and the school becomes aware of it, that they follow their own policies.”