02/22/06 — Seeing clearly: Comprehensive eye exam law is nothing but a waste

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Seeing clearly: Comprehensive eye exam law is nothing but a waste

Eleven county school districts and the state’s School Boards Association are challenging a new law that would require all state schoolchildren to complete a comprehensive eye exam within six months of enrolling in kindergarten.

The lawsuit, which was filed this week, claims that the rule is a hardship for poor families and is, in essence, a fee for attending public schools — a violation of the very definition of a free, public education.

While there is reason to wonder how much this lawsuit is going to cost all parties involved, and why someone wasn’t paying attention enough to stop this before it was signed into law, this is still a good move.

The eye exam law smells bad. Optometrist and Speaker of the House Jim Black, the unsigned checks from the eye doctor lobbying group — those alone are enough to make anyone think the motive for this law was a little bit more than simply making sure children can see the chalkboard — or dry erase board these days.

The phrase “more money for eye doctors” comes to mind.

So, what about the idea of screening children to make sure they can see?

Well, that is a noble cause, and one that can be accomplished the same way it has for decades. There are basic vision screenings in schools already. So, many problems could be identified here, and other concerns could be referred to an optometrist or an ophthamologist for a more comprehensive exam.

And then there is the old-fashioned way — a teacher notices that a child is having trouble seeing the board, or a parent notices his or her child having trouble reading something, and they go and get the child’s eyes checked.

If the goal really is to make sure more children with vision problems get the corrective lenses that they need or more serious problems are identified early, perhaps there could be more subsidies for screenings available for those families who cannot afford the fees.

Maybe there could also be an education program for teachers and parents about how to recognize a child with vision concerns — and a procedure for recommending a more thorough vision screening.

No one wants a child to sit in a classroom and have trouble with his or her lessons because he or she cannot see what is going on in class, but to create a bureaucratic boongoggle just to catch the few kindergarteners who might have serious vision concerns is wasteful and silly.

After all, there are certainly better places we could be spending that money. More health care options for families and better access to them come to mind.

Published in Editorials on February 22, 2006 10:54 AM