Griffin Prentice brought home bad news in a letter from the Prince William Health Department earlier last week: A teacher at Manassas Park Middle School had contracted a fast-moving infection.
Although the teacher wasn't named, Griffin already knew.
"Mom," he said, "it's Mrs. D."
Griffin's mother, Rebecca Pollino, told the story as she described her feelings about Jane Dimitriou, 47, a beloved English and French teacher who died Tuesday of bacterial meningitis. The Health Department wrote the letter to ease the concerns of parents and students, but Pollino said she didn't need it.
"My first concern was not about the disease," Pollino said. "It was about Mrs. D."
In the days after her sudden death, students, parents and faculty all struggled to find words to express their feelings for Dimitriou, who taught at Manassas Park Middle School for 11 years. In a school system with an enrollment of about 1,900, most students who attended school during Dimitriou's tenure passed through her classroom.
"She was the greatest person I ever knew. She was the greatest teacher I ever had," said LeShan Moore, 22, a 1995 graduate of Manassas Park High School who took a class with Dimitriou in the seventh grade and remained close to her. "She tried her best to help kids who didn't have such good lives at home. She was a second mom to me."
Moore was with Dimitriou at Inova Fairfax Hospital when she died.
"When I was in her class and I had problems with the parts of speech, she would take me to the side and explain it step by step," said Jessi Nazarene, a 16-year-old junior at Manassas Park High. "She was just there for everyone."
Wynettia Slaughter's two children also had Dimitriou as a teacher.
"I've lived here in the community for 17 years, and I've never heard anyone say anything bad about her," Slaughter said. "She was the type of person who made you feel very comfortable. The biggest issue for most people in the community is we're going to miss her."
Griffin, 14 and in the 10th grade, summed it up: "Even the bad kids would stay after class for Mrs. D."
Dimitriou's death received media attention because it occurred at the same time as other infectious diseases. A 20-year-old student at the University of Maryland was hospitalized last week with meningitis. In New York State, a form of encephalitis spread by mosquitoes has claimed four lives.
But Jared E. Florance, director of the Prince William Health Department, said that there is no connection between the cases and that the likelihood that Dimitriou's students or colleagues could be at risk is minimal. Dimitriou had been undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer and the infection spread quickly because of her weakened immune system, said her sister-in-law, Aphrodete Dimitriou.
Jane Dimitriou, a 1970 graduate of Osbourn High School in Manassas, received a bachelor's degree from George Mason University in 1974. After graduation, she spent 14 years caring for her children and other family members before joining the Manassas Park school system. She lived in Warrenton.
Superintendent Tom DeBolt said that a tribute to Dimitriou offered by a teacher during an assembly last week received a standing ovation.
"I think kids felt she had a sixth sense," DeBolt said. "If she was ever disappointed in a student, it would be because she knew their potential."
Dimitriou is survived by her husband, Andreas Dimitriou; three daughters, Katerina, Nicole and Christina; a grandson, Brent Vasily Jones; her mother, C. Janelle Burke; and a brother, Paul W. Burke.
Services will be held at 2 p.m. today at Stonewall Memory Gardens in Manassas.