BULLHEAD CITY — Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey last week signed into a law a bill directing Arizona schools to provide vision screening services to students.
Area schools are way ahead of that law, thanks in large part to the Bullhead City Lions Club.
Senate Bill 1456 directs schools to provide vision screenings when a child begins attending classes at an Arizona public school and at up to two additional grade levels. Screenings will be done by a school nurse, volunteer or other school employee who has undergone training.
“When a child can’t see properly they will, of course, struggle in school,” said state Sen. Sylvia Allen, sponsor of the bill and chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Education. “And young children don’t necessarily know they have vision issues. They may think what they’re seeing is normal vision.”
Don’t be surprised if a program already in place helps local school districts meet the new law.
In 2016, the Bullhead City Lions Club, through a grant from the BHHS Legacy Foundation, acquired two Spot Vision Screeners, hand-held devices that quickly examine individuals for six major eye issues. That year, the club provided free eye screeners for preschoolers from Bullhead City, Laughlin, Fort Mohave, Mohave Valley, Topock and Needles.
Last year, the club provided screenings for more than 1,000 children in the Tri-state, working in coordination with the Bullhead City and Mohave Valley elementary school districts.
Part of the mission of Lions Club International is to prevent avoidable blindness and improve the quality of life for people who are visually impaired. The Bullhead City Lions Club, chartered in 2008, lists its primary objective as “to assist children in need within our community with vision services.”
“In the Bullhead City Elementary School District, we did preschool all the way through sixth grade,” said Janis Young, secretary of the Bullhead City Lions Club, of last year’s screening efforts. She assists treasurer Karin Shelton with the local program. “Down in Mohave Valley, they already were doing testings so we did selected grades.”
The Spot Vision Screener is more effective that a standard eye test. It can identify potential problems with farsightedness, nearsightedness, astigmatism, eye alignment, unequal pupil size and anisometropia, the unequal focus of the eyes.
And it can do all of that in a matter of seconds.
“We’re a well-oiled machine,” Young said of the Lions volunteers to participate in the screenings. “It takes 10 to 12 seconds.”
That allows the volunteers — including those with training running the machine and others who assist with recording information and keeping the process running smoothly — to screen an entire school population in a matter of days, not weeks.
Parents are notified if a student shows a specific problem and a referral is given for a professional vision assessment.
The Lions Club’s involvement goes beyond the screenings. The club often provides assistance with a vision exam and glasses, if the student is deemed to have a problem that requires them.
Last year was the club’s first involvement with screenings at the public schools. It was somewhat alarming.
“We found a 20 percent incidence rate of vision problems,” Young said.
A pilot study by researchers from the Johns Hopkins School of Education and the Wilmer Eye Institute concluded that second- and third-graders with vision problems generally have lower reading scores than their peers. The study also suggested that by correcting those problems, students can close that gap quickly.
“The younger they discover (a vision problem), the better,” Young said. “There is something to be said about technology.”
Technology can flag a potential problem; a vision professional takes it from there and, hopefully, the problem is corrected or at least improved.
“They can correct it at an earlier stage and maybe they can be more successful in school,” Young said.
She said the local Lions Club followed the progress of SB 1456 and is “very pleased” by the legislation.
“Now we feel that the state is behind what we’re going, what we fell so strongly about as Lions,” Young said.
The new law technically is an amendment and expansion to the child hearing programs created by the Arizona Legislature in 1971 to provide hearing evaluation services to all children attending public schools in Arizona. It amends the title of the statute to “child hearing evaluation and vision screening programs.”
The original bill appropriated $100,000 to the Department of Health Services to administer the vision screenings; an amendment removed that appropriation request, leaving it to the local school districts to figure out how to comply with the new law.
For local school districts, that may not be a huge challenge, since the program already is being provided at no cost by the Lions Club.