Office of Washington Education Ombuds Receives Information on Children's Vision from Educating Young Eyes Group

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Educators, optometrists, parents, and others met with Jennifer Harris, Eashington Education Ombuds, in an informational session on Monday, December 15. Joining Cathy Hardison of Heritage University, Bill Erdly of University of Washington Bothell, Dr. Ben Winters of BuildingVisionYakima, and Katie Johnson, author of Red Flags for Primary Teachers, Rhonda Stone, author, Tacoma educator Erin Jones, Bothell parent activist Sam Ames, and others spoke about raising awareness of the issues of children's near vision.

This is not a simple problem, and it does not have a simple solution.

The problems of children who are struggling with undiagnosed vision issues are largely overlooked by schools and, too often, by the medical profession as well. The Washington Office of the Education Ombuds, which exists to resolve problems between families, students, and K-12 public schools, received an education themselves on Monday, December 15, when eleven members of the Educating Young Eyes group (affiliated with the University of Washington Bothell) came to the Ombuds office in Seattle.

"I was not aware that this issue existed," responded Jennifer Harris, Education Ombuds. "In our office we work with parents who need an advocate as they work with K-12 schools to resolve complaints and disputes. We have never been asked to investigate if a child can see to read."

According to studies by the Optometric Physicians of Washington and the College of Optometrists in VIsion Development, as many as twenty-five percent of children in the elementary grades have problems with focusing and tracking print as they are reading. Schools in Washington (and most other states) are required by law to screen all public-school children for distance vision, whether they can see clearly a chart twenty feet away.

"How many children read at twenty feet away?" asked Katie Johnson, long time educator in the Shoreline School District. "If the words are blurring or moving on the page, a six-year-old has no idea that isn't normal."

Dr. Ben WInters, developmental optometrist in Yakima, WA, spoke of the studies that have been done in Washington schools and about the need for more screenings to validate the problem. "Usually an in-school evaluation does not include a screening for near vision issues. All children should be taken to an eye doctor before they start school, just as they should visit a dentist."

"We may need to focus on funding to make near vision testing a requirement for school entrance, just as far vision testing is," added Ross Marzolf of the Metropolitan King County Council. Currently, school nurses screen for far vision; teachers rarely have any information about the need for near vision screening for children who are having trouble reading.

Ms. Harris thanked the group for their input. "We definitely need to be brought up to speed on this issue. I look forward to working further with you all."

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