National PTA Supports Eye Exams      The story behind the amended position statement

Janet Hughes

In 1999, National PTA took a bold step and became the first organization to recognize a hidden disability affecting learning and school performance.  Delegates at the 103rd annual National PTA convention adopted the resolution, Learning Related Vision Problems, to improve children’s vision care.


More than 10 million children suffer

According to the resolution, “More than 10 million children suffer from vision problems and that learning related vision problems, if accurately diagnosed, can be treated successfully and permanently.”  National PTA resolved to provide information about learning related vision problems and urged schools to include, in their vision screening programs, tests for learning related visual skills necessary for success in the classroom.  In 2002, the board of directors archived the resolution where it became part of the historical records of the National PTA’s position statement, Elements of Comprehensive Health Programs.


Vision screenings missed my child

My eldest daughter was one of those 10 million children.  She didn’t get help until an eye exam found a significant vision problem in 2002 that previous vision screenings missed.  Shocked at the diagnosis, I began researching children’s vision and learned even the best vision screenings cannot diagnose vision problems; only licensed eye doctors can.  This did not make sense to me.  Why are screenings promoted when they can’t diagnose a problem?  Parents are advised to complete health and dental check-ups with a doctor.  Why wasn’t vision included?  I took action to improve the system. 


Screening not a substitute

Illinois became the first state in 2003 to require a written notice before a vision screening is given.  Named after our daughter, “Amy’s Vision Law,” or Public Act 93-0504, confirms:  “Vision screening is not a substitute for a complete eye and vision evaluation by an eye doctor.”  A vision screening is not required if a parent chooses an eye exam instead.  A completed vision report signed by an eye doctor would be submitted to the school.  Since academic learning is 80 percent visual, early detection could make all the difference in a child’s academic experience. 


PTA’s inspiration

I knew more was needed to raise the standards of eye care for all children—a required vision examination.  As a PTA member for over seventeen years, I learned PTA was more than fundraising.  Advocating for children was at the center of being a PTA member.  I could turn a negative experience for my child into a positive outcome for others through PTA. 


Another resolution needed

When I explored PTA’s adopted resolutions, I found the National PTA’s archived resolution on children’s vision.  It was the only one about eye care.  I noticed it emphasized only learning related vision problems.  Amblyopia and other serious vision problems were not mentioned.  The resolution also resolved to improve vision screenings by trained personnel within the school setting.  Missing was the importance of comprehensive eye and vision examinations by an eye doctor.  Another resolution was needed for PTA.  I began collecting references. 


Screenings are limited

In 2004, results from the first phase of the Vision in Preschoolers Study by the National Eye Institute were released.  Vision screenings missed over 32 percent of vision problems caught by eye examinations.  The 2004 study was the first of its kind to compare screenings with exams. 

According to the Ohio Department of Health Policies for Vision Programs for Children, “Parents of children screened should be informed of the limitations of screening.  Screening programs should stress that the vision screening is not an eye examination, does not take the place of an eye examination, and will not detect all potential eye problems or diseases.” 

It became clear to me that “Amy’s Vision Law” was needed across the country.


Passed screenings, failed exams

Mrs. Nora Waliczek, Illinois PTA honorary life member and former Illinois PTA Valley Area council president, experienced the shortfalls of vision screening over thirty years ago.  “When my son passed his vision screenings, we thought his eyes were okay, but it wasn’t true.  He struggled with reading until an eye exam with an optometrist found his vision problem.”

Dr. Gary Williams, chair of the American Optometric Association Pediatrics and Binocular Vision Committee in 2004, said:  “Those of us who examine children, frequently see children who pass screenings yet fail exams.  Inadequate screenings have misled educators and parents, and many times, cause more harm than good.” 


Best screenings not good enough

Vision screenings attempt to find possible vision problems.  Screening results are separated into two groups—those who pass and those who fail.  Only failed vision screenings are referred to an eye doctor.  Vision screenings do not evaluate eye health and the vision skills important for success in school.  Only an examination by an eye doctor can diagnosis eye and vision problems and prescribe treatment. 

The Iowa Department of Education Vision Screening Program Guidelines affirms:  “No vision screening procedures, regardless of how complex or extensive, can substitute for a complete, professional eye examination.” 

All children deserved that professional eye examination.  The resolution, Required Vision Examination Before Entering Kindergarten, was written and the references were complete.  Now I needed a local PTA to sponsor it for presentation at the annual convention. 


Resolution presented

With the help of Mrs. Sandy Zeles, 2004 resolutions chair, and Mrs. Sylvia Tarchala, District 24 director, I found a local PTA.  William P. Gray PTA in Chicago voted unanimously to submit the resolution. 

Several months later, PTA members Dr. Floyd Woods, Mrs. Waliczek, and Gray PTA President Jodie Schafer traveled with me downstate to the 2004 Illinois PTA convention in Peoria.  After a spirited debate, Illinois PTA adopted the resolution I prepared without any changes.  Support was gained from the largest parent-teacher group for future legislation and for the resolution’s presentation at the National PTA level. 

Another resolution was drafted then for National PTA and other state PTAs, Importance of Comprehensive Eye and Vision Examinations.  PTA support was needed across the nation.  Together with Illinois PTA, National PTA would be approached next.


The first example

At first, the proposed resolution was dismissed by National PTA claiming the issue was already addressed in the archived resolution from 1999.  But when I presented information that the new resolution was a separate issue identifying a new problem that required a different solution, National PTA recognized the need for improving children’s eye care. 

At the 2005 convention, the board of directors at National PTA amended their position statement, Elements of Comprehensive Health Programs, to include children’s vision and support for comprehensive eye and vision examinations.  Mrs. Latha Kirshnaiyer, resolutions chair in 2005, said:  “This is the first example of amending a consolidated position statement to add an issue that is related but not specifically addressed in that statement.  We hope to see more of this take place as we move forward with this process.”


Let’s keep moving forward

Kentucky became the first state in 2000 to require an eye exam by an eye doctor before entering a public school for the first time.  Ohio requires an eye exam within three months of a child receiving services under an Individualized Education Program (IEP).  Puerto Rico’s governor signed a required eye examination into law on February 17, 2006. 

Let’s live the PTA’s motto, “Every child, One voice,” for every child’s two eyes.  Let’s work together and do all we can to ensure the best vision possible for our children—our future.


Janet Hughes, founder and president of Vision First Foundation, is a former full-time teacher and currently a stay-at-home mother of five children.  She can be reached here.

Copyright © 2007 Vision First Foundation.  All rights reserved.