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Parents sue after kid kicked out of school for his DNA

Parents routinely fill out forms when their child begins going to school, but for one California sixth-grader, the information his parents disclosed got him kicked out of school.

Colman Chadham started sixth grade at his Palo Alto middle school in an uneventful fashion — until a few weeks later, when he was allegedly kicked out because of his DNA. The problem? When Colman was born, he was diagnosed with a congenital heart problem that led to further testing, and when his genetic makeup was explored, it was discovered that he had some genetic markers associated with cystic fibrosis. Mind you, he does not have the disease, nor has he ever shown any symptoms, but his parents disclosed that fact on his school admission forms anyway.

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This information made its way to a couple of teachers, who then allegedly told the parents of a sibling set that does have cystic fibrosis. These parents demanded that Colman be removed from the school due to the risk of being near other kids with the same diagnosis — they’re vulnerable to contagious infection. Colman’s parents filed a lawsuit claiming their son was kicked out of school (although they’ve moved away from the area) — a lawsuit that promises to pioneer how genetic markers and DNA can be legally used against us, if at all.

As fascinating (and frankly, scary) as this situation is, we must ask ourselves what, exactly, should we be required to divulge on a school admissions form? And how can that data be used?

A lot of information most of us would deem necessary — emergency contact numbers and your child’s educational history, for starters. But medical information is also often required, for your child’s own protection (for example, if a child has a food allergy, staff needs to know). Don’t forget kids who need an education plan for a chronic illness, such as a child with juvenile arthritis who may need special accommodations during the school day — disclosure and working with a child’s medical care team is often required.

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However, this may be about all that you would want to disclose on a school admission form. For example, you might remember that last summer a Connecticut mom was rightly outraged when a kindergarten admission form asked whether her child was born via C-section or vaginal delivery. While some schools ask about pregnancy and childbirth history to assess if there is a potential for needed extra interventions (for example, asking about prematurity is common), asking about the birth route is unnecessary and invasive.

Also invasive is asking about a child’s genetic markers. There really isn’t any good reason to ask about what chronic illnesses a child may have at any time in the future, and basing educational policy on DNA has no scientific basis (not to mention the severe violation of privacy at the hands of the teachers who told other parents about Colman’s genetic makeup).

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It will be interesting to see how this case plays out, but if you’re confronted by a question on your child’s school papers that seems too invasive, you have the right to question it, and often you can refuse to answer.

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