Samantha Brinton, a behavior specialist who worked at Oak Park School in the Sarasota County School District, died on Monday, according to school officials.
Brinton had worked at the school for children with disabilities for the past three years, and her husband Rob is a deputy with the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office.
The cause of death was not immediately available. According to a GoFundMe page set up to support the family, Brinton was 33 and the death was unexpected.
School district staff came to Oak Park on Tuesday to help students at the school for children with disabilities process the news.
Oak Park Principal Jamie Lowicz said Brinton was a beloved mother figure who pushed students to overcome the challenges their disability created.
"There was devastation across the entire campus," Lowicz said. "She was neck deep into everything here and running a mile a minute."
In an email to staff, Lowicz described Brinton as an integral part of the Oak Park team.
"Sam has left an indelible mark on the Panther Nation during her tenure with us," Lowicz wrote. "Her level-headed approach to problem solving, her listening ear, and her soothing demeanor in times of crisis encouraged many of us and our students to seek her out for guidance, leadership, and advocacy (or even for just a hug or a smile)."
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Brinton's role as a behavior specialist meant she worked closely with some of the most challenging students, helping them develop strategies to communicate when they were upset.
"She just had this really special ability to meet kids where they were at," Lowicz said.
Brinton brought the Special Olympics to Oak Park, and once pandemic restrictions were lifted last year, she had 25 to 30 kids participating in the school's new track program, Lowicz said. Some of those students qualified for the county-wide Special Olympics, and some of those took home medals.
"She just ran with it," Lowicz said. "She really built a program that we can build upon."
Lowicz said many students at the school took the news hard Tuesday and that staff were helping students to understand the emotions of grief they may be feeling.
"Even when they don't have the words to express what they're feeling, they still understand what is going on," Lowicz said.
The GoFundMe page, set up by colleagues of Brinton's husband Rob, had raised $11,930 for the family as of Wednesday afternoon.
Ryan McKinnon covers schools for the Herald-Tribune. Connect with him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter: @JRMcKinnon. Support the Sarasota Herald-Tribune by subscribing today.
This article originally appeared on Sarasota Herald-Tribune: Oak Park School teacher for special needs students dies unexpectedly