Judge delays eye exams

Published 12:00 am Saturday, March 18, 2006

RALEIGH – A recently passed eye exam requirement for students entering public kindergarten across the state has been put on hold.

Wake County Superior Court Judge Leon Stanback issued an injunction Tuesday delaying the implementation of the new law until July 2007.

“I think this is the right thing to do,” Hertford County Schools’ Superintendent Dennis Deloatch said. “This exam would have been a problem for parents.”

The new law mandated that all North Carolina children entering public kindergarten this fall to have a comprehensive eye exam.

A Wake County parent and a host of school boards across the state are suing to overturn the law. The state Attorney General’s office, which represents the state in the lawsuit, agreed to the delay.

“It is difficult for parents to find certified doctors to perform these exams and the cost of these exams is extensive,” Deloatch added. “This decision is in the best interest of the children.”

The lawsuit estimates the exams cost between $65 and $120 and a total of 87 school boards are fighting the law as an unconstitutional financial barrier to a free public education.

House Speaker Jim Black, a Mecklenburg County Democrat and optometrist, had the eye exam law written into the state budget last year.

Optometrists in favor of the tests continue to argue that eye screenings don’t detect all vision problems, but many pediatricians and ophthalmologists have said it is unnecessary to give every child a comprehensive eye exam before they start kindergarten.

According to Ann Majestic, one of the attorneys representing the plaintiffs, the school boards agreed to put the lawsuit on hold until October 1 in hopes that state legislators will repeal the law.

“We’re very pleased and very hopeful that this can be resolved without further litigation,” Majestic said.

The law has drawn sharp criticism from education groups, pediatricians and advocates for children.

Critics have focused their attacks on Black because the Charlotte optometrist has taken tens of thousands of dollars in political contributions from optometrists over the years.