Texas schools hand out DNA kits to identify students in emergencies

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Texas schools are urging parents to keep their children’s DNA and fingerprint records in case they have to give them to law enforcement if children go missing.

For many, the spread — less than six months after a gunman killed 19 students and two teachers in Uvalde, Tex. – the thoughts of a sinister problem: school shootings.

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

After the Robb Elementary School shooting in May, families of unidentified children lined up to provide DNA samples to help identify bullet-torn bodies. The Uvalde gunman, an 18-year-old, legally bought two semi-automatic rifles and nearly 400 rounds of ammunition to carry out the worst school shooting in state history.

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

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

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

“Texas Gov. Greg Abbott is choosing to send DNA kits to schools for parents to use to identify their children’s bodies AFTER they have been murdered instead of passing 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 delivered 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 guardian who receives a fingerprint and DNA identification kit may submit the kit to federal, state, tribal or local law enforcement to assist in locating and returning 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 the school. year.”

Enclosed is an inkless fingerprint kit, applicator, medical information section and DNA section. The data would be collected and then stored in the child’s home, according to the program’s website. Fingerprints and DNA can be released to law enforcement in the event of an emergency, although some parents have expressed privacy concerns.

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

But as a teacher and 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 is a shooter. .

“Our legislators have done nothing,” she said. “They apparently have no interest in approaching Uvalde or what happens every day [with gun violence] in USA”

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

The rollout of the kits was quickly seized upon by Democrats, including California Governor Gavin Newsom and Beto O’Rourke, Abbott’s opponent in the governor’s race. O’Rourke blasted Abbott’s record on guns, tweets Monday: “Inaction will not change this. We must win and take common sense measures 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 to buy certain firearms to 21 in response to the Uvalde massacre. “We want to stop school shootings. But we can’t do that by making false promises,” he said, arguing that the age limit 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 series of failures by local, state and federal law enforcement at the scene, along with substandard security measures at the school and ignoring warning signs that the gunman was planning an attack in the days after his 18th birthday.

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

Weakened gun laws put Texas Governor Greg Abbott on the defensive

“I love my job. I love being a teacher. My students are doing well,” the teacher said. “And yet this threat of gun violence is the one thing that would make me go. No job is worth the risk when the trade-off is leaving my children without a mother.”

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