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School Teacher Dies Suddenly From Flu Complications

SWAMPSCOTT (CBS) – The community is mourning the loss of a popular teacher in Swampscott who has died from the flu.

Phyllis Gotlib, 68, had taught music to elementary school students in town since 1999.

She died Wednesday after she became ill over the weekend, the superintendent said in a letter to parents. Students were told about the death Thursday.

"Phyllis was a wonderful person loved by everyone. She brought music into the lives of so many children in Swampscott and Marblehead. We are shocked and saddened and can't express how much we will miss her," her family said in a statement Thursday afternoon.

Parents admit it's been a difficult conversation with their children.

"Definitely there was sadness this morning, you know, discussing issues at the breakfast table," parent Grace Callahan said.

Phyllis Gotlib
Phyllis Gotlib. (Family photo)

"Phyllis was both a kind and generous colleague, always greeting you with a smile and kind word. She was a bright light, with great sense of humor, a passion for music and her students. She will be sorely missed," said Swampscott Superintendent Pamela Angelakis, who wrote that Gotlib touched the lives of "thousands of students."

Her obituary in said Gotlib passed away suddenly "due to complications from the flu."

Related: Treating The Flu: Doctor, Urgent Care, Or Emergency Room?

"Because we have learned Ms. Gotlib's passing may have been due to complications from the flu, I sent cleaning crews into the Clarke and Hadley Schools early this morning to thoroughly clean all doorknobs, railings, her classrooms, and common areas including teacher prep spaces and hallways. This work was completed long before students arrived this morning," Angelakis said in a pre-recorded phone call to parents Thursday.

swampscott school
The Clarke Elementary School in Swampscott. (WBZ-TV)

Gotlib taught at the Hadley and Clarke elementary schools.

It's the suddenness of her illness that has shaken the community. Neighbor Laurie Casale says Gotlib was seen just a few days ago as always walking her dog.

As a nurse, Casale believes her death is a wake-up call about the severity of the flu.

"If it happened to her, and she was active as she was every single day of her life, then people need to realize that we're dealing with something that is morphing into something that I don't think even the CDC has projected," Casale said.

Officials say both the Clarke and Hadley elementary schools were thoroughly cleaned before classes Thursday, and parents were notified.

"The phone call went out that they had come and scrubbed down the school. I'm satisfied with that. I mean, we've been through crazy flu seasons in the past," Callahan said.

All three elementary schools in Swampscott will be closed Friday so staff and families can attend the funeral.

This flu season has now hit close to home here and it'll be a difficult recovery.

"How fragile it really is, just to be fine one day and then a couple days later, you're just not there anymore," said Gotlib's neighbor, Nick Bannister.

Earlier this month, a woman from Needham died from the flu.

Read: DPH Flu Report

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health estimates between 250 and 1,100 Massachusetts residents die annually from complications of influenza.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says this season's flu outbreak is peaking, but it will likely take weeks before it slows down.

According to the CDC, 26 states are reporting high levels of influenza-like illness activity.

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