Texas schools distribute DNA kits to identify students in emergencies

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Texas schools are encouraging parents to store their children’s DNA and fingerprint records in case they need to provide them to law enforcement if kids go missing.

For many, the rollout — less than six months after a gunman killed 19 students and two teachers in Uvalde, Tex. — brought to mind a grisly problem: school shootings.

As one middle school teacher in San Antonio said: The word missing “means a lot of different things.”

After the shooting at Robb Elementary School in May, families of children who were unaccounted for lined up to provide DNA samples to help identify bodies torn apart by bullets. The Uvalde gunman, an 18-year-old, legally purchased two semiautomatic rifles and almost 400 rounds of ammunition to carry out the worst school attack in state history.

The free test kits — which are optional — were not explicitly linked to school shootings under a 2021 law establishing a “child identification program.”

“A gift of safety, from our family to yours,” reads the message printed on the kits that were handed out to students at a middle school in San Antonio last month. “Over 800,000 children are missing every year — that’s one every 40 seconds,” the text on the envelope reads.

But the move has sparked anger and distress from some parents, teachers and advocates of gun control, who would rather officials focus on tighter gun safety laws, background checks and better security at schools.

“Texas Gov Greg Abbott is choosing to send DNA kits to schools that parents can use to identify their children’s bodies AFTER they’ve been murdered rather than pass gun safety laws to proactively protect their lives,” Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, tweeted about the Republican leader.

The Texas Education Agency said the kits will be provided to families through their local school systems. The Houston Independent School District, the largest in the state, would begin distributing the kits this week, the Houston Chronicle reported. “A parent or legal custodian who receives a fingerprint and DNA identification kit may submit the kit to federal, state, tribal, or local law enforcement to help locate and return a missing or trafficked child,” the law states.

The Texas Education Agency said in an email that the distribution was a “statutory obligation” and that the kits would be given to families “who had children in kindergarten through sixth grade during the 2021-2022 school year and kindergarten during the 2022-2023 school year.”

Enclosed is an inkless fingerprint kit, applicator, medical information section and DNA section. The data would be gathered and then stored in the child’s home, according to the program’s website. The fingerprints and DNA can be passed on to law enforcement agencies should an emergency arise, although some parents have expressed privacy concerns.

The middle school teacher, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of fear for her and her school’s safety, said she initially associated the kits only with child abductions because of the state’s messaging. She told students that the kits “were important and that they should take them home.”

But as a teacher and a mother in Texas, the threat of gun violence is “personal” and makes her feel “helpless,” she said, adding that her profession expects her to be “a soldier or a first responder” if there’s a shooter .

“Our lawmakers have done nothing,” she said. “They seem to have no interest in addressing Uvalde or what happens every day [with gun violence] in the US”

Gunman bought two rifles, hundreds of rounds in days before the Uvalde massacre

The rollout of the kits was quickly seized upon by Democrats, including California Gov. Gavin Newsom and Beto O’Rourke, Abbott’s opponent in the governor’s race. O’Rourke decried Abbott’s record on guns, tweeting monday: “Inaction won’t change this. We must win and take commonsense steps to reduce gun violence.”

Abbott did not immediately respond to a request for comment early Wednesday. During a debate with O’Rourke this month, he pushed back against raising the age limit for buying certain firearms to 21 in response to the Uvalde massacre. “We want to end school shootings. But we cannot do that by making false promises,” he said, arguing that the age restriction would be struck down by the Supreme Court.

A report on the Uvalde shooting by a Texas House investigative committee released in July outlined a litany of failures by local, state and federal law enforcement officers at the scene, along with substandard security measures at the school and ignored warning signs that the gunman was planning an attack in the days after his 18th birthday.

The investigation also noted deep “systemic failures and egregiously poor decision making.”

Weakened gun laws put Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on the defensive

“I love my job. I love being a teacher. My students perform well,” the teacher said. “And yet this threat of gun violence is the one thing that would make me leave. No job is worth the risk when the tradeoff is leaving my kids without a mother.”

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