The state of Texas is sending public school students home with DNA kits designed to help their parents identify their children "in case of an emergency."
In 2021, the Texas state legislature passed Senate Bill No. 2158, a law requiring 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 law passed after eight students and two teachers were shot and killed inside Santa Fe High School in Santa Fe, Texas, and almost a year before 19 fourth graders and two teachers were gunned down inside Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas.
The Texas public school system will provide ink-free fingerprint and DNA identification cards to all K-6 students who are eligible. Parents are not mandated to use the kits.
The three-fold pamphlets allow caregivers to store their children’s DNA and fingerprints at home, which could then be turned over to law enforcement agencies in the event of an “emergency.” According to the legislation mandating the kits be provided to qualifying Texas families, the fingerprint and DNA verification kits were intended to “help locate and return a missing or trafficked child.”
In the wake of the second deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history and the botched police response that left 19 students and two teachers dead, Texas parents are apprehensive about the kits and the message some are saying it sends to Texas families.
Many of the children gunned down inside Robb Elementary were not easily identifiable as a result of their catastrophic injuries. Some close family members provided DNA swabs in order to positively identify the children's remains.
Tracy Walder, a former CIA and FBI agent and current college professor who taught high school history for 16 years, said she was "devastated" when she heard her second grade daughter would be sent home with a kit.
"You have to understand, I'm a former law enforcement officer," Walder, who has lived in Texas for 14 years, told TODAY Parents. "I worry every single day when I send my kid to school. Now we're giving parents DNA kits so that when their child is killed with the same weapon of war I had when I was in Afghanistan, parents can use them to identify them?"
Walder said she has tried to "find the right words" for how she feels, but she doesn't think she can "because sometimes it's beyond comprehension."
"This sends two messages: The first is that the government is not going to do anything to solve the problem. This is their way of telling us that," Walder said. "The second is that us parents are now forced to have conversations with our kids that they may not be emotionally ready for. My daughter is 7. What do I tell her?"
Brett Cross, whose 10-year-old son Uziyah Garcia was killed in the Robb Elementary School shooting, shared his frustration over the kits on social media.
“Yeah! Awesome! Let’s identify kids after they’ve been murdered instead of fixing issues that could ultimately prevent them from being murdered,” Cross posted on Twitter.
TODAY Parents reached out for comments from Texas State Sen. Donna Campbell, who sponsored SB-2158, and from Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, but did not hear back from either at the time of publication.
A spokesperson for the Texas Education Agency said in a written statement provided to TODAY that "Senate Bill 2158 established the Child Identification Program, a grant to supply child I.D. fingerprint and DNA identification kits to school systems to provide to families in their respective school communities," adding that "parents can voluntarily request these kits."
"To fulfill this statutory obligation, TEA is collaborating with the Safety Blitz Foundation, National Child Identification (I.D.) Program, Education Service Centers, and school systems to provide families who had children in kindergarten through sixth grade during the 2021-2022 school year and kindergarten during the 2022-2023 school year with child I.D. fingerprint kits," the statement added.
Some parents say they feel uncomfortable sending their children’s DNA to anyone for privacy reasons. And after the tragedy in Uvalde, the kits are making many moms and dads feel even more anxious about sending their children to school.
"It makes me physically sick," Wendi Aarons, a mom of two who has lived in Texas since 1999, told TODAY Parents. "I have a hard time even grappling with this as a real thing that is happening. Parents of school kids should be worrying about (parent-teacher organization) sign-up sheets and grades and if their kid likes whatever they're serving in the cafeteria that day, not their child's murder and if they're shot so many times their body cannot be identified."
Aarons has two children, ages 18 and 20, who attended Texas public schools from the time they were in kindergarten until they graduated high school. She said she's grateful her children will not be sent home with DNA and fingerprint kits, and said she "can't imagine the panic and anxiety parents face sending their kids to school every day not knowing if they'll return."
"It's astounding, to realize that not only has the state of Texas done absolutely nothing to protect our kids and teachers, they've taken the callous, heartless, cruel measure to send DNA test kits so we can identify their bodies if or when they're victims of a massacre," Aarons added. "It sends the message that guns are more important than us."
In June, Emily Westbrooks and her family moved to Texas from Ireland, where she said "gun violence is negligible and sending children to school wasn't a daily terror."
"It infuriates me that these kits are being sent to families in lieu of any concrete action to prevent such terrorizing tragedies from occurring," said Westbrooks, who has a 5-year-old in kindergarten and a 7-year-old in first grade. "I think the only way you can reasonably send your children to school is simply to tell yourself this won't happen to your kids, which is of course just lying to yourself."
Westbrooks adds that the kits shatter that lie and are an "incredibly triggering, in-your-face reminder that our kids are at risk of being obliterated by automatic weapons to the point they won't be recognizable."
"Elected officials, both national and Texan, have given up," she added. "They've decided our kids aren't worth restricting guns, but they're offering us this as some kind of consolation. It's disgusting that they can't do any better than to admit that they won't protect our children."
This article was originally published on TODAY.com