New state law requires eye exams for students

Mike Maciag

Steven Lichtenstein peers into 3-year-old Jared Flessner’s eyes as his mother clenches his hands.

"Look right at Elmo," Lichtenstein tells the Peoria boy, whose right eye suffers from Amblyopia, or lazy eye.

Peering into the pupil, Lichtenstein smiles after finding a visible improvement in Jared’s misaligned eye.

Like Jared, all Illinois children are now required to have an eye exam within a year upon entering kindergarten or the first grade at any public or private school to comply with a state law that went into effect Jan. 1.

Students already enrolled in school are exempt, but students from outside the state attending schools in Illinois for the first time will also be required to complete the exam. They must submit proof by Oct. 15.

Lichtenstein, a pediatric ophthalmologist at the Illinois Eye Center, prescribed Jared glasses and gave him a patch to place in front of his left eye.

"He would be seriously impaired in his right eye if we didn’t catch this early," Lichtenstein said.

Jared’s father, Dan Flessner of Peoria, had noticed something with Jared’s eyes that was similar to his own. "We saw that his two eyes were not following each other," he said.

Lichtenstein said eye conditions are often hereditary. Other than prescribing glasses for poor vision, he said common ailments found in children were lazy eye and misalignment of the eyes.

A vision exam consists of determining each eye’s prescription and checking to see if there are any medical problems. Only two other states — Kentucky and Missouri — have mandatory eye exams, while most require less-comprehensive vision screenings.

After the initial exam, no other vision tests are required though Lichtenstein said it is best if people come in more than once.

State Rep. Aaron Schock, R-Peoria, said the bill was pushed by teachers’ unions and school administrators.

"If kids come to school and they can’t read the materials, it makes teachers’ jobs very difficult," he said.

Schock, a co-sponsor of the bill, also noted that all children should have access to a free eye exam, if necessary.

According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, most children are covered for eye exams by their insurance or federal or state programs.

For others, the Illinois Eye Center is offering reduced rates for children.

"We’re not going to turn anyone away if they don’t have the resources to pay," Lichtenstein said.

Students not completing an eye exam by the required date will still be allowed to attend school, but their report cards could be held.

Many school administrators and parents are not yet familiar with the law. Peoria Academy Principal Karen Calder said some parents aren’t even aware of it.

Calder said the grade school will notify parents when they receive their re-enrollment information.

"It’s something new, and every one has to learn how it all works," she said.

Mike Maciag can be reached at 686-3251 or