Friday, July 07, 2006

Eye Exams For Children

On Thursday, the House passed a bill sponsored by Rep. Linda Coleman, D-Wake, that would revise a controversial law from last year that sought to require all kindergarteners to get a comprehensive eye exam before starting school. The law passed last year by the General Assembly has been halted by the courts amid a lawsuit brought by the NC School Boards Association, which claims that such a requirement would violate the North Carolina constitution. Critics of the law say that requiring eye exams for all children would be unnecessary since children must already undergo a vision screening. But proponents of the law argue that these vision screenings can miss serious eye problems that can only be detected by instruments used by an optometrist or ophthalmologist. Nationwide studies have shown that even the best vision screenings can miss as much as 30% of treatable eye problems and these eye problems are often misdiagnosed as a learning disability or attention deficit disorder in children.

The proposed revision of the law (HB 2699), which was approved Thursday by a vote of 90-12, would create uniform standards for vision screenings already done as part of a child’s pre-kindergarten heath assessment. If a child then fails a vision screening, the child would be referred for a comprehensive eye exam performed by an optometrist or an ophthalmologist. For parents who don’t follow through on the process, schools will send out information, including material explaining that funding is available to pay for the exams if needed. Further, if a teacher thinks that a child should get an eye exam, funding will also be made available for those exams. Those opposed to law year’s law – the NC School Boards Association, North Carolina Prevent Blindness, and the NC Medical Society – are in support of the bill, which now heads to the Senate for approval.

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