AUSTIN (Nexstar) — Students across Texas this week are starting to bring home DNA identification kits for helping parents identify their kids “in case of an emergency.”
In 2021, Texas lawmakers passed Senate Bill 2158, which requires the Texas Education Agency to “provide identification kits to school districts and open-enrollment charter schools for distribution to the parent or legal custodian of certain students.”
The Texas Education Agency is providing ink-free fingerprint and DNA identification cards to all kindergarten, elementary and middle school students. Parents are not required to use the kits, nor do they have to return the kits to their school district.
But in the wake of the second-deadliest school shooting in U.S. history in Uvalde, some parents said the kits are sending the wrong message — due to the fact that DNA had to be used to identify many of the children who were killed in the May 24 mass shooting at Robb Elementary.
Tracy Walder, a Dallas parent and also a former CIA and FBI agent, said the thought of needing to use a DNA kit on her 7-year-old daughter made her stomach turn.
“No one wants to think about taking their child’s DNA because they may get killed at school,” she said. “We are treating, in a way, schools like war zones. When I served overseas, my DNA was on file.”
But the bill’s author said the intent of the legislation has nothing to do with school shootings. State Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels, introduced it with the goal of helping parents have information to give authorites in the event that their child is abducted or trafficked.
“The original intent was to aid law enforcement in recovering children that were missing. Many times parents don’t have enough information to actually help law enforcement,” Campbell said.
Eanes ISD Superintendent Dr. Jeff Arnett said, if anything, his district is mainly receiving questions about privacy from parents.
“We don’t recollect them. We’re not compiling any of that data associated with the fingerprinting kits,” he said. “It’s entirely up to the families to decide whether they want to use the kits with their children, keep them for the future perhaps or discard them altogether.”
Campbell said Texas has been distributing these kits for years, but it was never codified into law to have consistent funding.
The TEA estimates each kit costs about $15. The legislature appropriated a little over $4.5 million for the 2022 fiscal year and allocated another million dollars for the following fiscal year.
In 1999, the Texas Legislature actually approved a bill to make those kits available to public school children. This year, the National Child Identification Program plans to distribute 10 million kits across North America.