It was a day of grief Monday in tiny Ellicott School District 22, which closed and sent students and staff home after it learned that first-grade teacher Tracy Nelson had died on Sunday.
Classes will resume today and grief counselors will be available to help students deal with the death.
Nelson, who had been with the district since 2002, had health problems but the cause of death had not been determined, according to officials and a friend.
“She was a wonderful teacher. We are a small school district and everyone knew her. This affects us all, not just the first graders,” said Jeri D’Amour, director of curriculum.
Nelson, who was married to Mike Nelson, had two children, Rebecca, who is in first grade, and Jacob, a preschooler.
School board member Stef Dickinson, a close friend of the Tracy Nelson, said her three children had Nelson as a teacher in first grade.
Dickinson’s six-year-old daughter was in Nelson’s class this year and was good friends with Nelson’s daughter.
“I even have pictures of our daughters together when they were just babies. I told her that Mrs. Nelson passed. She was upset and also concerned about Rebecca.”
Dickinson said that Nelson, who also had taught high school and middle school, was an amazing teacher.
“She was very compassionate. She could work with all level of students at the same time, whether they were gifted or at-risk,” Dickinson said.
She said Nelson was a breast cancer survivor and had some related heart problems.
Superintendent Terry Ebert called her a “great teacher, employee and person. She cared a lot about her kids and worked hard to give them what they needed.”
There were about 20 students in Nelson’s class this year.
Monday was a sad day at the school, Dickinson said. “There wasn’t a dry eye.”
Ebert said school was cancelled so that students and staff could absorb the shock. The principal was notified early Monday, and the crisis team convened.
“There was not enough time to cancel classes, so teachers were given statements to present to classes," he said. "The parents of Nelson’s students were called, and other parents notified of the closure.”
Ebert said that if anyone believes their child needs grief counseling they should call the school so that counselors can help.
The district number is 683-2700.