By Julie Bibler

In the last several weeks there have been a series of newspaper articles regarding children’s vision screenings. As the director of a small nonprofit organization, the Children’s Vision Foundation, which has screened more than 46,000 children to date, I have some information that may be helpful — particularly in Central Oregon.

CVF has been partnering with the Bend-La Pine School District and school nurses since 2001. This dedicated team of nurses hasn’t been mentioned in recent articles and yet is an important part of our school district.

By partnering with them, all kindergartners through fifth-graders will have been screened by CVF or district nurses this year. District nurses have been hard-pressed to vision screen all the students needing it, in addition to providing care for all of our students’ medical problems. CVF has been screening all second- and fourth-graders annually since 2001, as well as students who were identified in previous years or who are referred by students’ families, school staff and sometimes by the students themselves.

CVF has a seven-step vision screening program that encompasses more than just distance vision screening; our program addresses many of the other visual skills that students need to use in the classroom, while reading and doing homework. Incidentally, CVF has never received financial support from Bend-La Pine School District. Instead, we have relied on grant funding and donations.

The new statewide children’s vision law that goes into effect next fall should have minimal impact on Bend-La Pine students, because the majority of them will have been screened by our organization or school district nurses. CVF has been going into other Oregon community’s schools, both public and private, including ones in Grant, Jefferson, Lane, and Polk counties so far this school year — more communities are scheduled and planned this winter and spring. Next fall, we are scheduled to partner with Crook County nurses and others. Many small Oregon school districts have no school nurses, and students in those schools will most likely be impacted the most. Thousands of Oregon’s children having vision problems have not been identified.

Organizations like CVF, the Elks and Lions clubs have been providing screenings to students in Oregon. In 2008, Rep. Gene Whisnant asked CVF to present information about children’s vision problems to the House Education Committee. Data from CVF screenings, including Bend-La Pine students, was shared with state leaders for the first time ever. The critical need for a systematic, statewide program was evident.

Since then, CVF has been testifying annually before various committees and been on state task forces, educating state leaders and working on bills. The new bill has been an outcome of this team process, has bipartisan support and will make a huge difference to thousands of Oregon’s children.

The Oregon Department of Education is creating a work group that will design a statewide program. Unfortunately, this new law currently is an unfunded mandate. The Oregon Department of Education’s recent report to state lawmakers is recommending financial support for the mandate, which may or may not happen. In the meantime, CVF continues to partner with state leaders, schools, eye care professionals and other nonprofits that are working on behalf of Oregon’s children.

The Bulletin has been very supportive and published articles over the years, educating their communities on this important issue. With approximately 80 percent of a child’s learning done visually, and roughly 25 percent of our children impacted, Oregon’s students, families and education system will benefit from this new law.

— Julie Bibler lives in Bend.