Report: Majority of AR students failing school vision screenings don't see an eye doctor

Students at Crystal Hill Elementary School in North Little Rock have their vision checked by school nurses to help determine if a student needs to be seen by an actual eye doctor. (Photo: KATV)

While state law requires Arkansas public and charter school students to receive vision screenings to identify possible impairment, a new report suggests the majority of students who fail those screenings aren't seeing an eye doctor to diagnose and treat their vision problems.

Students at Crystal Hill Elementary School in North Little Rock got their vision and hearing screened on Tuesday.

"We screen them and if they fail, we send a letter home to the parents stating that they have failed, asking the parent to take them to see an eye doctor, an optometrist," said Kim Burri, registered nurse at Crystal Hill Elementary.

The state only requires students in pre-K, first, second, fourth, sixth & eighth grades to be screened. Officials with the Arkansas Department of Education presented a summary of the screenings findings to the state legislature's Public Health, Welfare & Labor Committee on Tuesday.

Out of the more than 230,000 students screened across Arkansas last year, more than 25,000 Arkansas students grades pre-K through 12 failed the state's vision screening.

While these new statistics suggest that only one in ten Arkansas students show signs of vision impairment, ADE's report shows that out of the 25,000 students that were referred to an eye doctor for a full-comprehensive eye exam, only 38% of students actually saw an optometrist.

"That's actually surprising to me," said Dr. Julie Dolven, optometrist with James Eyecare & Optics Gallery in West Little Rock.

Dolven said it's surprising to her because of how important 20-20 vision is to getting a proper education.

"Eighty percent of learning happens through our eyes," said Dolven. "If they cannot see the papers in front of them, if they cannot see the board at school - they cannot begin to even understand any of that."

Burri said much of the reason students aren't seeing the eye doctor after failing school vision tests has to do with family finances.

"In a lot of cases it's the money," said Burri. "A lot of our children unfortunately aren't covered by insurance."

Although many students may have health insurance, a large number don't have access to vision insurance.

Burri said Medicaid will cover eye exams and glasses, but many parents make too much to qualify for government-assisted healthcare and too little to make prescription eye glasses a priority for their children. Many schools have access to vouchers to help families who fall through the financial cracks - suggesting that parents who are concerned about affording glasses contact their school nurse to see if assistance is available.

In a statement released by the Arkansas Department of Education, "ADE, the Vision Commission, and the Arkansas Optometric Association are currently collaborating to determine the supports that may be provided to assist families in accessing these services."

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