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RMS starts the year with sad news

Maheen Naz Butt was diagnosed with cancer Aug. 6.

The new school year started with tears at Rosemount Middle School. RMS communication interaction program teacher Maheen Naz Butt died Aug. 30, the night before teachers were set to gather for their first workshop.

Butt was diagnosed with glandular cancer on Aug. 6.

RMS principal Mary Thompson gave teachers time at the beginning of the Aug. 31 workshop to gather themselves after she made the announcement.

"We're a family, a community here, and we're here in the interest of the students," Thompson said. "We love being here, and when you lose one of your own, no matter how close a relationship you have (it's hard)."

The death came as a surprise to RMS employees, many of whom had not seen Butt since classes let out in June. Even for those who knew she had been diagnosed it was a shock. Butt was diagnosed just a few days after she started seeing symptoms of the cancer, and while Thompson had made plans to have someone fill in for Butt at the start of the school year there was still hope she might be back at some point.

Linda Filonowich, another special education teacher at RMS, said Butt had seemed fine while teaching summer school.

"It sounded like (doctors) had given her about two good months and it ended up being five weeks," Filonowich said. "It's a horrible shock. Some people didn't realize it. They don't check their e-mails all summer."

Butt, 40, grew up on Pakistan and came to Minnesota in 2001 to get a master's degree in special education. She already had a master's degree in educational planning and management from Allamaiqbal Open University and a bachelor's degree in fine arts and philosophy from the University of Punjab.

Filonowich said Butt, who had been at RMS for four years and taught at Falcon Ridge Middle School before that, had a talent for working with special education students, especially kids with autism.

"They have a lot of individualities, from the kids who are obsessed with Pokemon or Transformers or Alvin and the Chipmunks. It takes a lot to respect someone so individual yet still teach them. Still treat them like they're valued."

The school plans to plant a purple maple on the RMS grounds in Butt's honor. Purple was her favorite color.