Idaho bullying numbers high, and rising; school weapons reports mixed

Idaho defies several national trends, according to a new report on student behavior.

The state’s bullying rates are high and rising.

Weapons possession rates are high as well — depending on what you call a “weapon.”

Drug and alcohol use is low.

The feds’ Indicators of School Crime and Safety report tracks school violence. However, much of the 268-page report looks at student behaviors that can affect safety, based on a variety of sources, including national surveys of students, teachers and principals. To break down this lengthy report, let’s focus on the Idaho and national numbers in three key areas.


The responses from Idaho’s ninth- through 12th-graders are unsettling.

One in four students said they were bullied on school grounds. One in five said they were bullied online.

Even that doesn’t tell the whole story. Idaho’s bullying rates increased from 2011 to 2017 — while national rates decreased.

Bryan Kelly, the assistant principal of Coeur d’Alene’s Lake City High School, said he wasn’t surprised, especially by the cyberbullying numbers. “It’s very easy to say things to other students, through a social media platform.”

But the numbers left Phil Diplock skeptical and surprised. The vice principal of Nampa’s Columbia High School isn’t sure how the nation’s cyberbullying rates could decrease, when social media is so prevalent in daily life. The Idaho bullying numbers also seem high in relation to what Diplock sees at Nampa’s high schools.

But at the same time, he also thinks students are being honest about bullying — and more honest than students used to be. “You never said anything at home, you never said anything at school. … You just dealt with it.”

Kelly and Diplock are battling bullying on multiple fronts.

Columbia students get weekly mentoring sessions with a staffer — not just about their schoolwork, but about their state of mind. Diplock believes this makes a difference. Students feel more comfortable confiding with their mentor.

Columbia deploys surveillance as well. Filters on school-issued computing devices catch threatening behavior, as well as vulgarity or references to drugs or alcohol. The filters don’t work on students’ personal devices — so even a minimally tech-savvy student can avoid detection.

Both Kelly and Diplock emphasize the need to take the first reported incident seriously — even if students say they were only joking. They sit the student down with parents and the school resource officer for a candid discussion of the consequences of cyberbullying, including expulsion and criminal charges. Usually, that’s enough to get the student’s attention, Diplock said.

“Most of the time, it’s just a kid being a high school kid, not thinking,” he said.

Bullying has been a recurring issue in Idaho education for several years.

The 2015 Legislature passed an anti-bullying law that requires schools to create anti-bullying policies and provide training to help staffers address bullying issues. Under the law, students can be suspended or expelled for bullying.

In 2017 — confronted with state data that more or less mirrors the numbers in April’s federal report — state superintendent Sherri Ybarra urged the state to declare a “war on bullying.” This initiative morphed into a $20 million school safety plan; the 2019 Legislature ignored Ybarra’s proposal.

Weapons possession

Here, the feds’ April report is both eye-opening and confounding.

In all, 9.8 percent of Idaho’s ninth- through 12th-graders said they carried a weapon on school grounds at least once during the previous 30 days. The national figure was 3.8 percent. Numbers weren’t released for every state, but only Alaska reported a higher weapon possession rate than Idaho.

Now for the confounding part. Across the state, only eight students reported bringing a gun to school in 2016-17, a rate well below the national average.

What gives?

It comes down to the definition of a “weapon,” which includes not only guns, but knives and clubs.

In a state where many kids hunt, fish or help out on a farm, it’s easy for a student to casually bring a pocket knife to school. It’s almost a daily occurrence at Columbia, Diplock said. Oftentimes, the student is simply warned to leave their pocket knife at home.

It’s a different story if a student brings a larger knife to school, or makes a threat. Lake City has suspended two students for weapons possession this year, Kelly said, and both incidents involved knives.

Drug and alcohol use 

About 26 percent of Idaho ninth- through 12th-graders reported drinking at least once in the previous 30 days; the national rate comes in at close to 30 percent.

Only 16 percent of Idaho ninth- through 12th-graders used marijuana during that same time period, compared to a national rate approaching 20 percent. And while marijuana use has remained fairly constant nationally, marijuana use in Idaho has dropped over the past 10 years.

Coeur d’Alene is about a 20-minute drive from Washington, which has legalized marijuana, but Kelly says this hasn’t affected marijuana use at Lake City. Diplock says it’s the same story at Columbia — about a half hour from Oregon, another state that has legalized marijuana.

A bigger problem, they say, is vaping, which has surged in popularity. The feds’ report contains no state-by-state data on vaping use. 


Kevin Richert

Kevin Richert

Senior reporter and blogger Kevin Richert specializes in education politics and education policy. He has more than 30 years of experience in Idaho journalism. He is a frequent guest on "Idaho Reports" on Idaho Public Television and "Idaho Matters" on Boise State Public Radio. Follow Kevin on Twitter: @KevinRichert. He can be reached at [email protected]

Get EdNews in your inbox

Weekly round up every Friday