From the historic hallways of the most beautiful state Capitol in our nation, this is Senator Keith Ingram.
Over the past 20 years the legislature has enacted several laws requiring that young school students be regularly tested for vision problems.
Last school year more than 206,000 students were screened for vision difficulties. About 24,000 had some type of problem, and 7,700 received a follow-up exam.
Of those, it was confirmed that 6,791 children needed treatment for vision problems.
Of course, thousands of Arkansas students had to study in virtual classrooms last year, due to the pandemic.
Those students were offered a free screening at their local school district, but 17,688 of them never came in for a check-up, for a variety of reason.
The parents of 558 children refused the offer of a vision screening for their child, perhaps because of concerns about contracting the Covid-19 virus.
The vision screenings are conducted only by school nurses who are certified to do them. However, if the child has visited an optometrist or ophthalmologist within the previous six months, a new screening is not required.
Children with undiagnosed vision disorders are especially vulnerable to learning and developmental delays, so it’s critically important to screen and detect any problems they might have.
Relatively few students need a follow-up eye exam, and we’re doing our best to keep those numbers low. Access to eye care is the key component.
Legislation that mandates the vision screenings also authorizes the state to accept donations of money, equipment, materials and services. The donations are distributed annually to schools that need resources to conduct vision tests.
Vision screenings are required for pre-K students who are four years old, as well as students in kindergarten and grades one, two, four, six and eight.
Also, transfer students have their eyes tested, and vision screenings are conducted when teachers or school staff suspect that a student has problems seeing.
Vision tests are just part of the total number of health exams that take place in public schools.
School boards can assign nurses to conduct hearing exams to determine if students have a defect that can prevent them from learning at the same rate as their classmates.
Students must show documentation that they have been immunized against a variety of infectious diseases, such as polio and diphtheria.
School staff can test for scoliosis of girls in sixth and eighth grades, and boys in eighth grade.
Scoliosis is a curvature of the spine that is often noticed just during a growth spurt.
In kindergarten and in even-numbered grades, school health personnel send home a health report to parents with the child’s body-mass index.
I distinctly remember when Governor Mike Huckabee had schools measure kids’ body-mass index. It was in 2003, and he received sharp criticism from parents all across Arkansas who complained that schools had no business reporting that their children were overweight.
Governor Huckabee weathered that political storm, just as today’s elected officials will survive the protests over mask mandates and vaccinations.
When you do what’s right, things will work out in the end. Especially if you’re protecting the health and safety of children.
From the Capitol, it is always my great honor and sincere privilege to serve you as your state Senator. This is Keith Ingram.