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State mandates eye exams for kids 7 and younger

Local school districts are working with parents and health care professionals to comply with new legislation that requires every child age 7 and younger to have an eye exam when entering a public school or a preschool program.

Last year, state representatives and state senators voted unanimously in favor of House Bill 3000, requiring schools to collect documents certifying that a student has had an eye exam within 120 days of starting school or beginning some other educational program.

And last spring, the State Board of Education adopted an Oregon Administrative Rule outlining how to implement HB 3000.

Based on data collected from more than 23,000 vision screenings, about 14 percent of Oregon’s preschool children have “an abnormal eye exam,” requiring additional treatment, said Joannah Vaughan, director of the preschool vision screening program at Elks Children’s Eye Clinic, in an email to the House Education Committee in March 2013.

Districts are not required to provide the screenings but simply need to point parents in the direction of providers, said Crystal Greene, an Oregon Department of Education spokeswoman.

However, many local districts are opting to provide the service themselves to avoid the hassle of pestering parents for the correct documentation.

The Medford School District conducts hearing and vision screening for all kindergarteners annually and at a parent or teacher’s request, said Tania Tong, the district’s supervisor of student services.

“To be successful in school, it’s important to have good vision or have problems taken care of early since there is so much reading,” Tong said.

Students in the first or second grade who were screened in kindergarten were not required to be screened again this year so long as the district had a record of their eye exam, Tong said.

However, school nurses will provide a vision screening for all students ages 7 and younger who either didn't attend kindergarten or transferred into the district, Tong said.

The Central Point School District collaborated with the Oregon Lions Sight and Hearing Foundation out of Portland to conduct eye exams for every elementary student in the district, said Brock Rowley, the district’s director of special programs.

“We figured we could either ask parents to produce proof of an eye exam or offer the service ourselves,” Rowley said.

During the second week of September, the foundation conducted eye exams at each elementary school in the district. It took only about 10 minutes for them to examine 20 kids and cost the district only $100 per school, Rowley said.

In the last two years, the foundation replaced basic eye charts with new screening technology called a photo scanner, said Matt Phillips, the data and technology manager of the nonprofit's mobile health-screening program.

"It basically takes a photo or video very quickly," Phillips said. "It can detect a stigmatism in children and issues such as eye misalignment or early signs of amblyopia ( more commonly known as lazy eye)."

“We can screen a child in about 5 seconds," he added.  "We’re screening 800 children in one day with one staff member and six to eight volunteers."

During the 2013-14 school year, the foundation screened 75,000 kids in Oregon for vision and/or hearing.

"This year, we'll do 100,000 kids before the end of the calendar year," Phillips said.

Preliminary results from the screenings done in Central Point indicate that about 10 percent of the district’s elementary population require follow-up, said Rowley.

The Eagle Point School District, in partnership with the Lions Club and the Community Health Center, will offer hearing and vision screenings in October and November for students in kindergarten and the first, second and fifth grades.

Tiffanie Lambert, Eagle Point’s director of student services, said a Community Health Center nurse will follow up with the families of students who didn't pass the screening.

The Phoenix-Talent School District will work with Ashland Community Hospital and the Lions Club to offer vision screenings Dec. 2-4, said Special Education Director Suzanne Foster.

"I think this will make a big difference," Foster said.

Reach reporter Teresa Thomas at 541-776-4497 or tthomas@mailtribune.com. Follow her at www.twitter.com/teresathomas_mt.