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Judge Blocks Implementation Of Mandatory Eye Exams For Kindergarteners

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RALEIGH, N.C. — On Tuesday afternoon, a judge put a stop to a new law involving mandatory eye exams for all kindergartners. It's a ruling that affects more than 100,000 children entering school this year.

The judge's injunction puts the mandatory eye exams on hold until at least 2007. Schools, doctors and a parent filed suit to block the exams. Even the defendant in the case -- the state --called for the injunction, so lawmakers can reconsider the idea.

From the time it became public, reaction to the law requiring all children entering kindergarten to undergo comprehensive eye exams was harsh. Even ophthalmologists called it an unnecessary expense and a hardship for families.

"I don't think it's good from a medical standpoint, an educational standpoint, or an economic standpoint," said pediatric opthamologist Dr. Jeff Board.

Lawmakers weighed in.

"We need to make a stronger message and repeal this legislation," said Rep. Nelson Dollar (R) of Wake County.

House Speaker Jim Black, an optometrist, helped push through the legislation. He argued it was to help children with undetected vision problems, not his fellow eye doctors. Still, school systems joined the fight, fearing they may have to bar students who didn't get the exams. Schools like Wake County welcomed the judge's injunction.

"We're encouraged by it," said Wake County Schools spokesman Michael Evans. "We'll wait to see what happens with the General Assembly, but for the time being it means families of kindergartners joining the Wake County Public School System next year will not be required to have an eye exam."

The ruling is a setback for Black. He issued a statement Tuesday afternoon, stating: "It was never the intent of the law to keep kids from entering school or to impose an additional financial burden....the lawsuit had the potential of causing disruption...I am comfortable with the consent order."

The General Assembly will revisit the eye exam debate in May. Critics want the law repealed.