Comprehensive eye exams sought for all students

In the last five years, California has invested tens of billions of dollars more in our schools, strengthened curriculum standards and empowered local communities to address the challenges their students are facing. Yet there are students in nearly every classroom who are struggling to learn because they simply can’t see well enough to read blackboards, books or computers.

California’s State Board of Optometry has introduced legislation to give these students access to the educational opportunities they deserve. Assembly Bill 1110, authored by Autumn Burke, D-Marina del Rey, would connect more students with comprehensive eye examinations and eyeglasses they need to see and learn.

Vision disorders are the most prevalent disability in childhood, with vision problems affecting 1 in 4 students. That’s why the California PTA and advocates for people with disabilities and students of color have embraced our effort to help all children see and succeed. They recognize that school-based vision screenings are missing vision problems our children are experiencing as they’re trying to learn and locking young people out of learning opportunities.

In fact, research shows the kind of vision tests administered in schools miss one-third of vision problems that can impede reading. These include eyes that don’t focus together, lack of depth perception or peripheral vision, and even vision loss related to diabetes or eye cancers.

Under AB 1110, parents would be informed in their school enrollment packets that a voluntary comprehensive eye examination – performed by an optometrist, ophthalmologist or physician – is strongly suggested for students entering California schools. There are no mandates or penalties for families who choose not to have their children’s eyes examined; instead, the bill aims to educate parents that comprehensive eye exams are already covered by Medi-Cal and private insurance under existing law. Students whose parents opt-out would continue to receive the current vision screenings administered by school nurses.

The bill will likely save costs by preventing more costly and extensive eye and vision problems down the road and providing tools for more California students to succeed in their education.

It is unfortunate and surprising that our common-sense bill has been met with strong opposition where you would least expect it: California’s medical establishment, who typically lead when it comes to prevention, but believe that only kids already falling behind should have a comprehensive eye exam.

As the member of the Board of Optometry representing the California’s public, I know that eye care opens the door to lifelong health for Californians, as eye examinations are often the first to detect life-threatening and costly chronic conditions including diabetes and hypertension.

As a mom, the stories I have heard from across the state about children failing in school, facing behavioral problems and being bullied because they cannot see break my heart. One child missed in our current vision screenings is one child too many. It is our responsibility to ensure that every child in California has the tools they need to be successful in school and in life.

This bill is one small step in raising the awareness of the important role vision plays in the success of our children and provides parents with the resources to ensure their children have access to quality eye care.