Archive for category Bullying
One of the major issues facing school board accountability in Ontario is that when school boards appoint trustees, boards tend to favor appointees who are friendly with the board and tend to vote with the board. In politics it’s extremely hard to unseat an incumbent, so many board appointees have somewhat of a leg up on other potential candidates during elections. Over the course of the past several months, the trustees at the York Region District School Board (YRDSB) have come under fire for misuse of travel expenses, appointment of an unprecedented multi-million dollar contract for a director of education, lack of transparency, loss of public confidence and a lot of infighting.
There has been growing calls to expand the legal roles trustees play in our public school sector to ensure broader public oversight of our education system, and on the flip side some are suggesting trustees have outlived their role and are vocally calling for the role itself to be abolished. Whatever the side of the fence you belong to, this issue is likely to become a part of the provincial election next year, since the YRDSB is just the most recent board to come under fire over the past several years for misbehaving trustees, and board staff.
A few months ago I posted a blog regarding debates that were going on how to fill a vacant seat at the YRDSB as a result of Georgina Trustee Nancy Elgie resigning. Since Elgie’s resignation I’ve spoken with YRDSB Chair Loralea Carruthers expressing concern regarding an appointment and that the people of Georgina need a choice. There are significant issues that Elgie utterly refused to deal with. Many of those concerns from constituents the Toronto Star bought up with Elgie over a 2 day interview with her and her family, in which hours after the interview Elgie resigned. There were a large number of concerns the Star presented to Elgie regarding her representation at the board from her constituents and fellow trustees which a lot of Elgie’s supporters and her own family shrugged off as being partisan.
Carruthers admitted that she supported the by-election option back a few months ago, but the majority of the votes on the board were looking at appointing the only other candidate to run against incumbent Nancy Elgie in the last election which was Cynthia Cordova. The board, at the time this decision was going to be made, was under review by the province, and the board was concerned about public backlash as a result of that appointment. So the board decided to hold a public consultation for mid-March with the people of Georgina and ask what they wanted.
What ensued looked very much like the board manipulating information and the process of consultation to try desperately seek the appointment of Cordova, rather than actually seek the input of the people of Georgina.
The first issue that was present was costing. The Town of Georgina provided the YRDSB a “very rough estimate” of the costing of a by-election. The estimate that was provided to the board by the town was the full costing of the 2014 municipal election, in which is headed on the report given to YRDSB staff. The total cost of the full 2014 municipal election in Georgina was $300,000. This includes election of town council, mayor, and trustee. Carruthers during this time was all over media explaining that the board would have to spend $300,000 for a by-election. Carruthers left out that the $300,000 was actually the full costing of the last municipal election in Georgina, and rather providing due diligence in ensuring accurate information got out to the public on the costing of the by-election, Carruthers ran to media with the $300,000 figure almost immediately. Weeks later, the town halved that figure to approx. $160,000 upon investigation by myself and curious editors at the Toronto Star. Carruthers blamed inaccurate information by board staff for this mess, and she was just going by information the town provided her, which was titled “2014 municipal election expenses”.
Next up was this so called community consultation. It was hastily done. Parents didn’t get notification in some cases until hours before this “consultation” took place on where to attend ensuring that other potential candidates didn’t have time to rally their supporters, all the while ensuring an overall low turnout by holding this consultation essentially during March break. I spoke with Carruthers to try and get this moved back a week to allow the public proper notification, which she refused. The ballot asking people what they wanted in this consultation listed the net zero option of appointing Cordova at the top, second option was appointment of another candidate the board would select (costing for that was $60,000), and the final and last option was the by-election. A lot of policy and law were included on this ballot as well which even for a policy wonk like myself was quite a bit, and should have been simplified for public viewing by the board.
While most living in York Region are somewhat used to this board pulling this type of thing and ensuring the voices of the public don’t actually get through, what is surprising is that all of this took place while the board was under investigation for losing public confidence for exactly that. All throughout this nonsense I was keeping the YRDSB reviewers informed of the situation. I also consulted with a few legal experts I know well as a result of my time as a youth advocate in the policy trenches, some of whom stated that this situation could be precedent setting if the board had appointed, in that it would put into question the entire provincial school system’s legal ability to appoint, and quite possibly question the legal role trustees have – within what is supposed to be – a democratic institution.
I wrote to all trustees and CC’d the YRDSB reviewers (to ensure the public had access to my concerns at a later date. Everything sent to the reviewers is subjected to freedom of information requests and a matter of public record). Here was what I sent on March 17th, 2017 to all trustees:
I’ve been involved for many years working with the province as an advocate to further school board accountability. In fact I was one of the main advocates advocating for the Ontario Ombudsman to have oversight over the school boards as a result of how dysfunctional the democratic nature of our Provincial School Boards are and how much at risk that is putting our kids in. The following was sent to Board Chair Loralea Carruthers last night on my behalf. I wanted to share this with all of you regarding the vacant seat in Georgina, and what the board has chosen to do, and how you have all handled this. There will be consequences for ALL boards across the province if there is any decision to appoint anyone to this vacant seat:In my time in the policy trenches both federal and provincially I have met and had the pleasure of speaking with politicians from all sides of the isle. Most politicians that I’ve had the pleasure of working with are very strongly committed to furthering democracy in their respected institutions. I don’t know of any politician that would ever drop unvetted and unverified numbers on the public, and try and deter constituencies from any democratic process based on costs. Even verified numbers. I think the vast majority of those in both our provincial legislature, and our federal HoC would never do anything like that, since it would undermine the very fabric of democracy in those institutions in which they serve. There is NO valid argument against any democratic process.You are a good politician. I know you care about the institution you serve, but I strongly believe the shortsightedness, or the inability to step outside your bubble, is one of the reasons why you are still a trustee. If anything, whatever this turns out to be, will be an fantastic case study as to why our public learning institutions shouldn’t have the legal ability to appoint. In fact you have my word, that if the YRDSB appoints in this circumstance for any reason, you will be the last board in the province to do so. I can almost guarantee that.Jason KoblovskyGeorgina Parent/Policy Analyst
Days later the ad-hoc committee tasked with this consultation delivered their recommendations to the board which recommended a by-election. As expected a record low turnout, and those few that did were Cordova’s supporters asking for her appointment. Publicly Cordova did state that she favored this community consultation process, however Cordova at the time of posting this blog was unavailable for further comment. Board Chair Loralea Carruthers will be at an event on June 12th, meeting with Georgina parents.
Why this blog, and why now? It is important that all candidates know the issues present in trying to give Georgina a voice at the YRDSB. I don’t normally get involved in local issues. A lot of my advocacy around school board accountability was done at a provincial level, through provincial youth advocates and started back in 2009 during a high profile bullying incident at Keswick High and the responses – or lack there of – by the YRDSB and then Trustee Nancy Elgie. The end result of that advocacy was the province agreeing to expand the Ombudsman’s investigative powers to school boards in 2015.
As a strong supporter of democratic institutions, I would rather see public voices return to school boards. I would rather see openness and inclusion of the community in the board processes, and above all an end to protectionist behaviors of the boards, which have cost lives across this province and put even more children at great risk due to lack of accountability on the boards by those we elect to them.
Whomever wins this by-election in Georgina will have a very tough role going forward. Not only will they have less than a year to turn this board around, and produce results for a community long forgotten, but post provincial election in 2018, they will most likely have to publicly defend the role of a trustee in the current school board system. As a parent, I would rather have a say and my voice respected, rather than not have any voice at all.
(York Trustee Nancy Elgie Blames Racial Slurs on Head Injury as Public Calls for Her Resignation Grow Louder)
The scandal ridden York Region District School Board met with emotional parents Tuesday night. Many parents in York Region are concerned about the level of accountability the York Region District School Board (YRDSB) currently has in place, and presented the YRDSB with a petition asking for the resignation of one of its Trustees over racism allegations. The YRDSB in recent months has been hit with several human rights complaints of systemic racism and bullying by staff members and students that are seemingly shrugged off by the upper ranks of the board and their trustees. Now the racism that was observed in one York Trustee is a result of banging her head on a foreign object according to official public records read in during Tuesday’s meeting.
At issue; York Trustee Nancy Elgie was overheard by several throwing out a racial slur towards parent Charline Grant who was confronting the board in a meeting in November last year (get this) regarding racism.
On Tuesday night, parents and media packed the school board meeting looking to confront Elgie and the Board regarding systemic racism and bullying the board is currently observing. Elgie was supposed to be in attendance but wasn’t there for “medical reasons”. A very bizarre apology letter from Elgie was read aloud by the board in which Elgie blames her actions and words on a head injury, prompting quite a few amusing twitter responses:
During the meeting Tuesday night York’s Director of Education J. Philip Parappally walked up to the Grant family, and apologized. This family has been at several of these meetings since November, and I find it extremely interesting that it wasn’t until the cameras were present that the director actually engaged. Prompting this tweet from Newstalk 1010 host Desmond Cole who was at the meeting:
Considering that Parappally is on the public pay roll for the next decade with a handsome salary no one seems to have vetted publicly, you would think he would meet with Cole to discuss the issue of racism, bullying and student safety.
Trustee Elgie is also my trustee. I’m a resident of Georgina, and I have been following the lack of school board accountability regarding racism since the 2009 Keswick High indecent. I have been in contact with Elgie several times over the years on several concerns I’ve had with the York Region District School Board’s implementation of the “Safe Schools Act”. The safe schools act is legislation that was put into place to help curb bullying and racism in Ontario schools by the province. Currently the Ministry of Education does not audit boards for compliance with this legislation nor tracks each boards programs to ensure the money is actually being spent on successful projects.
I have found Ms. Elgie to be rather combative and dismissive of several concerns I have brought up to her over the years regarding the conduct of the board and following through with proper legislation and law regarding safe schools legislation. I have heard from several parents locally here over the years, even wrote about one instance around this time last year where Elgie refused to respond to complaints within the system, often leaving parents and students to fend for themselves.
In the complaint I wrote about last year, Elgie in an interview for this blog and on the record blamed the parent for lying with no evidence to back that allegation up. She refused to fully look into the situation and provide any sort of advocacy on this family’s behalf towards the school board and work towards any type of solution when questioned. Elgie stated eventually stated she would meet with the parent at a scheduled protest, but never showed up. This is something that over the years seems to be a common theme with Trustee Elgie.
In one instance while I was questioning Elgie on the Keswick High situation in 2009, Elgie claimed on the record I was bullying her when requesting a full break down of the boards budget around the Safe Schools programs supposed to be implemented by the board under legislation to fight acts of racism and bullying. As a result she would refuse any further requests for that information and completely cut off any communication with me on the subject. The board quoted close to $900 for that information through freedom of information, which is why I had approached Elgie on trying to obtain this information since it should be publicly available on the boards website. To this day a full and complete break down of the money allocated to safe schools and tracking of those programs is still not posted on the boards website.
A trustee’s job is the public overseer of the school board. They are there to hold the board accountable on our behalf. Too often than not I hear from parents across the province where trustees turn into lap dogs for the school board. That can be clearly observed at the YRDSB, when just last year trustees voted to approve an unprecedented 10 year contract and a 40% wage increase to their current director Parappally, after only being on the job for a year and a half. Not one board across the province as granted a decade long contract, let alone a contract of any length to a director that has been on the job at that length of time.
Last year it was also revealed that Trustees at the York Board took advantage of traveling overseas at the expense of the board with little to no value added for those trips. The Ministry of Education put a moratorium on York Trustees travel expenses and just a few months after that was lifted, Elgie took her 3rd trip to Finland and was unable to come up with any benefit the trip had towards the board when questioned by media. The systemic racism that parents have been reporting to their trustees, as well as trustee expenses are now currently under investigation by the Ministry of Education.
It’s almost a full circle. Parents for many years have had to sit and watch as this board protects its image rather than the children within it. As parents have sat helpless in bringing in accountability and change to a board that puts its public image above everything else, the YRDSB now looks at Elgie and the damage she has caused to the reputation of the YRDSB. The longer Elgie stays on as a trustee, the more and more damage is done to the Boards reputation, and there is nothing meaningful enough the Board can do to force that accountability on Elgie to save its own reputation from this women. It’s Elgie’s lone choice to resign or not. How fitting for a board who is obsessed with its own image over that of the safety of its students, to not be in the position to control the public perception of it.
Accountability, Budget, Charline Grant, Desmond Cole, J. Philip Parappally, Mitzie Hunter, Ontario Ministry of Education, Racism, Safe Schools Act, Trustee Nancy Elgie, York Region District School Board
As a parent with a non-verbal autistic kid, one of my worst nightmares is to have to deal with a teacher that isn’t qualified to ensure the care of my child. We’ve been pretty lucky. The teachers and staff taking care of my son in the school system are extremely caring, professional and have been a huge support for my family. The vast majority of the education system is like this, however there seems to be a growing concern in Ontario’s school system when issues with bad apples arise, and with developing meaningful policy at the provincial level to insert accountability in order to deal with these bad apples. Ontario faces quite a few bad apples.
Last month CBC’s marketplace did a special on problem teachers. CBC has found that in Ontario, teachers who have been found of misconduct continue to teach for years until the College of Teachers gets involved in dealing with stripping those teachers of their license to teach. In one case, an Ontario teacher was found to have been sending suggestive sexual messages to the kids in his class. It took 4 years for the complaints to reach the College of Teachers which allowed this teacher to continue his behavior thus increasing the amount of victims of it, and later he moved to a different country to skirt accountability, where he is still teaching. What’s worse is that teachers found of misconduct are often “recycled” to different schools until matters can be heard years later at the College of Teachers allowing for more abuse to continue and increasing the number of victims of abuse.
For me as a parent, let alone one with a non-verbal ASD kid, this is unacceptable. If a teacher is found abusing kids with special needs, they are continued to be allowed to teach. The strength of the education lobby is of great concern in this province. Too often than not, parents voices are drowned out by powerful unions and school boards during committee and policy processes. When complaints arise from parents in the system, this lobby more often than not, dismisses any concerns from parents, often bullying them with threatening behavior to protect their own interests rather than those of kids.
Remember that parent that vented out on facebook? The facebook post went viral about her special needs child being ordered to do over 80 crunched in one day. Mindbendingpolitics as learned the York Region District School Board did their investigation into the matter. They completely exonerated the teacher of any wrong doing, and blamed the child for lying due to issues at home. The parents called in the Children’s Aid Society to investigate which found the teacher was guilty of misconduct but no child protection issues in which they could legally intervene. With the current situation this teacher will be allowed to teach other special education students for years to come. The York board in this current case is also refusing to provide transportation to this special needs child to her new school further adding stress to this family as a result of coming forward with their concerns.
Granted that not all teachers are bad, but the few that are, are being protected by their unions and boards and recycled to different schools. Parents concerns are often set by the way-side and bullied into silence. This is creating an epidemic of child abuse in our school system in Ontario as a result, and should not be tolerated by our law makers.
Youth advocates for years have been fighting to make the system better and more accountable only to find unions and school boards hijacking policy too further protect their own interests over that of even basic human rights. Politicians for the most part gladly oblige due to political donations. An example of this I followed was through the introduction of two pieces of legislation in 2012. Bill 13, and Bill 14 which had to do with creating a safe environment for our kids. After heavy lobbying by youth advocates, the Ontario PC’s adopted a bill with a lot of recommendations to define issues such as bullying, and accountability of schools and government to ensure our kids remain safe bill 13. The Liberals supported by the NDP introduced their own legislation Bill 14. As a youth advocate it was nice to see non-partisan support for keeping our kids safe, but a close inspection of both bills revealed a lot of union influence with a lot of anger from parents. This spilled onto the committee floor with parents testifying regarding their concerns. Particularly from Owen Sound parent Joe Grieco who testified in 2012:
Having carefully looked over both bills, we have grave concerns that, although there appears to be a desire to reduce the impact of bullying in Ontario, the proposed additions and amendments to the Education Act are not comprehensive enough and will not lead to the necessary outcome: safer schools, safer students and improved learning success for all Ontario students.
What’s even worse is that after bill 14 became law and new money flowed into the system to keep our kids safe, the Ministry of Education in 2014 felt it necessary to divert $1.6 million allocated to safe schools and autism services to protect school boards across the province from a lawsuit. All the work to keep our kids safe and previous efforts by autism advocates was pretty much to help fund the Ministry of Educations slush account for school boards and unions.
Fast forward to 2016 – youth advocates are again engaged over the debate of autism and safe schools funding. I’ve approached York Region District School Board a month ago to find what programs are in place to ensure student safety, and requested a breakdown of the boards budget to show money flowing to each school and what programs that money is being spent on. I was told this would be provided to me. Now the board is stating that information isn’t available to the general public due to “confidentiality” reasons.
As recently as February, the York Region District School Board was called out by the Ontario Human Rights Commissioner for not collecting important data too target social programs in schools. I have to question even the existence of safe schools programs in York Region as a result. The board has been unable to provide any information detailing these programs, when this information and break down presumably should be publicly available via the boards website as it relates to the boards budget.
The province has recently stripped needed support to autism services in Ontario. This as prompted concerns from the province’s youth advocate Irwin Elman on what impact this will have on the school system, stating:
One also has to question how the school system will fit into this plan. How is the role of the school and the classroom integrated into plans for service to the school-aged children? Parents of children with “special needs” know that the gap between the promise of the school system and the child’s lived experience at school is a chasm. The Ministry of Education also appears absent from this important discussion.
Enter the teacher unions and school boards. The NDP has been leading the fight with autism services in Queens Park. Members of the NDP are showing a tremendous amount of passion (even members of the party being ejected from question period) to bring forth concerns to Wynne’s autism policy. The biggest financial donor of the NDP is the Ontario Secondary Schools Federation, who has donated more than $249,350 to the party over the past 3 years. I have to question whether this passion for parents concerns is legitimate, or an attempt to politically position their top financial donors at the front of the line with the applause of parents when discussions inevitably turn to the education system. I have concerns over not just current funds but any future funds allocated to autism services in the education system as a result, and whether they will actually reach kids, while parents groups applaud the efforts of these unions and boards.
The Ontario Autism Coalition has been a great support for parents in this political battle; however this organization has been actively seeking the support of teachers unions and boards. When questioning Bruce McIntoish (one of the lead advocates for the coalition) on policy, McIntosh suggested that Policy Program Memorandums (PPMs) be modified to ensure ABA services in the education system.
PPM’s are essentially non-binding statements and as independent youth advocate and founder of the York Region Anti-bullying coalition Karen Sebben stated in an interview with mindbendingpolitics:
The language used in PPM’s are vague and open ended. It creates the illusion that the Ministry of Education is pro-active.
The language used is for the sole purpose of continuing to allow administrative discretionary measures, lack of transparency and continued autonomy.
What’s even more horrifying is the fact that these unions appear to have infiltrated a parent led movement, which now is restating support for the very cause of the issues present in the education system. That is that we have to protect union members in order to protect our kids, when it is precisely that situation that is creating an in balance and lack of accountability.
We need accountability injected into this system as a result of the amount of protection union members and boards currently enjoy. The lack of accountability is creating an environment where money isn’t reaching our kids to ensure their education is a safe one, to ensure human rights and dignity of our most venerable are being protected, to ensure that kids with special needs get the proper education by qualified staff and thugs are fired rather than recycled.
It’s not just one political party to blame for this. It’s all of them. There may be a need now as a result to have the Ombudsman or Auditor General reappear on these files to inject that accountability, since advocates and parents voices are continually being drowned out regarding the problems our school system and youth face and a lack of concrete systemic solutions being presented due to heavy lobbying efforts by these unions and school boards.
Parents seeking meaningful change should focus their support on independent youth advocates rather than union lead parent movements. When you make a deal with the devil, you always set yourself up for failure, and I think the current problems the education system faces is representative of too many bad deals made with groups who have no intention in being held accountable for anything, and will do whatever they need too, to ensure that continues. Balance needs to be restored, and a massive injection of accountability ordered to ensure our youth have the right to proper, safe and enjoyable learning experiences, and the services they need.
(York Region District School Board Still Plagued With Accountability and Bullying Issues Seven Years After High Profile Rally)
Back in 2009, over 400 students walked out of their classrooms denouncing staff at Keswick High School’s decision to wrongfully suspend an Asian student who was the subject of bullying. This incident in 2009 took the York Region District School Board [YRDSB] off guard and continues to be a black eye on the board regarding how not just Board Trustee Nancy Elgie handled the case, but how the bigotry and blind eye towards victims of abuse ran rampant in York Region Schools. It wasn’t until media was involved and a public outcry, that Trustee Elgie (who’s profession is a clinical psychologist) and higher ranks at YRDSB actively got involved to correct the situation. The Keswick High protests brought forth change in YRDSB policy, however not the attitude of the board to listen to students and parents.
Fast forward to 2016. Seven years after the Keswick High boondoggle, there have been several reports that a school just blocks away is displaying again intolerance around bullying to the point where even the staff seem to be taking an active role in it. Keswick parent Robin Legault took to facebook in horror, and desperation after feeling nothing was being done to correct her concerns by school staff and the YRDSB. Legault stated in her facebook post, that she had complained to the school several times regarding the bullying, and staff gave her the cold shoulder:
My fiancé and I have repeatedly complained to the school about these issues in hopes the school staff would rectify this, but it seemed they would just ignore the problem and tell us they were “looking into it”.
Legault goes on to say that as a result of the relentless bullying her daughter tried to take her own life, not once but twice. Legault was horrified to find out recently that school staff seem to be taking an active role in the abuse of her child. Legault stated:
On Wednesday March 9th 2016, I was expecting my daughter to have had a really good day at school. I never had any phone calls or anything and was hopeful she had a rare, but peaceful day. Quite the opposite. When she arrived home, she told me that her special education teacher had prevented her to leave the classroom at all costs and also asked another teacher to “make sure she didn’t leave”. Her special education teacher was sending her down to the office and as my daughter asked why she was being sent, the special education teacher demanded her to do ten crunches in front of the class. Every time my daughter opened her mouth to ask what was going on, another ten crunches was added to make a total of eighty crunches that my daughter was forced to do before she left. She was escorted down to the office and remained there for the day. She was not allowed to read, do her schoolwork, or even draw while she was there. When my daughter was finally allowed to return to her special education class, my daughter was terrified to speak, as she didn’t want more crunches. In addition, her teacher told her that something must be wrong with her head and using anxiety and depression is just an excuse.
The facebook post quickly shared by thousands on facebook produced comments from across the country of support and similar issues with other school boards and staff. Legault, is planning on a rally in front of Jersey Public School Monday March 21st, 2016 at 7:30am to denounce bullying problems at this school with the support of several other concerned parents. She is asking those that plan on attending to wear pink.
Legault has since approached Trustee Elgie, and the superintendent of the school only to be met with threats of a lawsuit from YRDSB, and dismissal of her complaints on staff. According to YRDSB spokesperson Licinio Miguelo, upon a complaint from a parent on the conduct of school staff the board is supposed to initiate an investigation on the incident at the school. There has been no indication or documentation provided to Legault that any investigation is ongoing regarding her complaint, just threats of a lawsuit against Legault’s family by the board, nor did Miguelo provide any indication of an ongoing investigation into Legault’s concerns.
Under safe schools legislation YRDSB is supposed to implement anti-bullying programs board-wide. Miguelo wouldn’t comment on whether in Legault‘s case proper policy was followed citing privacy concerns, and did not have any specific information regarding what anti-bullying programs were in place at Jersey Public School at the time of the interview. I was told the board would provide that at a later date. In 2010 the Ontario Auditor General found a total of
$30 million $50 million in tax payers money earmarked for anti-bullying programs unaccounted for by all school boards across the province.
I spoke with Legault’s Trustee Nancy Elgie today on the record. When questioning Elgie on the threatening behavior of the board, Elgie acknowledged that the board provided “legal advise” to Legault, and essentially called into question Legault’s story on facebook as being not truthful. Elgie provided nothing to counter Legault’s claims, nor did she elaborate. Upon questioning regarding the bullying problems at Jersey Public School which is well known in the community, Elgie stated that she hasn’t heard of any systemic bullying issues from parents at this school, meanwhile there is documentation that shows Elgie was e-mailed by the superintendent showing systemic issues being investigated by the board on Legault’s daughters bullies in 2014. Legault stated that Elgie refused to get in contact with her in 2014, along with the superintendent that was copied on the e-mail thread.
When questioning Elgie if she would be willing to meet with concerned parents regarding the bullying issues at this school, Elgie agreed however offered that she would only be there to listen to concerns, and would not offer up any solutions to the systemic bullying issues at Jersey Public School. Elgie did state however that she will be attending the rally on March 21st.
What saddens me from following this story, is that we just had a national discussion on bullying, to the point where the Federal Government in 2014 tried to address the issue through federal legislation. The Ontario Government passed safe schools legislation years ago, that seems to be rather voluntary regarding the boards implementation of it. The country, it’s people, and elected representatives are all on the same page regarding bullying, so why aren’t educators and trustees?
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