CARE Award - October 2019
There is perhaps no better name than "CARE Award" for the honor given to this month's recipient, Trost Elementary first-grade teacher Brianna Epstein Snodgrass.
It was out of deep care for one of her students that she went to great lengths to attempt to ensure he was safe from abuse and neglect at home. Once the student was out of her grasp, even then, she kept fighting; she championed a state house bill requiring animal control employees to be included among mandatory reporters of abuse and neglect.
That bill passed, and now, following a nomination from a former teacher, the district and Kiwanis are honoring her for her efforts.
Snodgrass's efforts began with a single student, who she refers to as "J." According to her testimony to legislators, he had come to her after a rough kindergarten year behaviorally and academically. The two quickly made a connection.
But Snodgrass was concerned about J, who, among his other struggles, perpetually smelled of urine. Snodgrass and the school counselor made repeated reports to the Department of Human Services on J's behalf.
It all came to a head around the time that the district psychologist, school counselor and Snodgrass had scheduled an unannounced visit to J's low-income apartment for a Monday. But before that could happen, they learned that J's mother had lost her job, the family was being evicted from their apartment, and over the weekend they were moving to Texas where they could stay with family.
Following their departure, Snodgrass and the school counselor went to the family's apartment that Monday to make sure they'd really left. It was this visit that would ultimately lead to Snodgrass's legislative efforts.
"The counselor and I could smell the stench of urine coming from their apartment halfway up the stairwell," Snodgrass said in her testimony. "Sure enough, they weren't there and although we couldn't get into the apartment, we talked to the apartment manager.
"What we learned haunts me to this day," Snodgrass continued.
"She said that the family, specifically the stepdad, was being investigated for animal abuse by animal control. According to her, they housed exotic animals…She declared that her maintenance workers had left the apartment with animal feces on them after performing work. Needless to say, it now became much clearer why J smelled like urine, but there was nothing we could do about it, at least nothing that felt like it mattered."
Snodgrass later learned the family had become homeless in Texas. This knowledge made her feel like she had failed J, or that the system had failed J.
"I know that we did all that we could under the restraints of the systems in place, but I have always wondered what would have happened if Animal Control Officers were mandatory reporters and reported to DHS about the horrendous conditions inside that apartment," Snodgrass said in the testimony. "Would the story have played out differently for J? Would he be in a better living situation now, instead of homeless, if animal control officers had made that report? I will always wonder what could have been for J."
While Snodgrass was hindered from helping J, she has now helped potentially hundreds or thousands of other kids. She took the necessary steps to propose legislation that would add animal control officers as mandatory reporters of abuse and neglect. The idea became House Bill 2227, and it was passed and signed into law by the president and governor this year, making Oregon only the seventh state to have such a law. It will take effect in January 2020.
"It is our duty as citizens to protect those who cannot protect themselves: our children," Snodgrass said to end her testimony.
At the school board meeting to honor Snodgrass, Board Chair Angi Dilkes acknowledged how difficult it is to pass legislation like this and she applauded Snodgrass's diligence.
As this month's recipient of Kiwanis's and the district's CARE Award, Snodgrass received a plaque and a gift basket from local businesses. Local sponsors of the CARE Award include Canby Kiwanis, Hot Rod Dreamworks, State Farm Insurance-Matt Olsen, Columbia Bank, DirectLink, The Wild Hare, Backstop Bar & Grill, Rice Time, Gwynn's Coffeehouse, Swan Island Dahlias, Puddin' River Chocolates and Glenmore Farms.
To nominate someone who you believe is deserving of the CARE Award, nomination forms can be found on the district's website at https://www.canby.k12.or.us/our-district/care-awards/care-award-form.