Morning Read: Cortines defends Esquith investigation

L.A. superintendent: ‘When it comes to student safety, we are going to choose students over adults every single time.’
Los Angeles schools superintendent Ramon C. Cortines e-mailed me Monday night with a reaction to my latest column. Washington Post

Teacher training course aims to boost students’ college readiness
Nearly 5,000 teachers across the state in grades 7 through 12 will sign up this summer and fall for CSU’s Expository Reading and Writing Course. Ed Source

5 questions with LAUSD School Board President Steve Zimmer
Steve Zimmer won the backing of his colleagues on July 1 to step in as Los Angeles Unified’s new school board president and his plate is already piled high. KPCC

Long Beach school board to consider renaming Robert E. Lee Elementary
The announcement comes more than two weeks after civil rights activists from the Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable began calling on district and city officials to rename the elementary school. Long Beach Press-Telegram

Hopes dim for rewrite of school transit funding formula
The shortcomings of California’s current home-to-school transportation funding system came to light during the 2011-12 school year. SI&A Cabinet Report

Teen pregnancies hit all-time low
The highest number of teen births was recorded in 1990 when there was a birth rate of 60 babies per 1,000 teens. SI&A Cabinet Report

LAUSD ahead of new law on LCAP funds for homeless students

Graduate Recognition Luncheon at Luminarias Restaurant on May 22nd

Homeless LAUSD students at the Graduate Recognition Luncheon on May 22. (Credit:

As the result of a new law signed by Gov. Jerry Brown last month, California’s school districts must specifically outline in their Local Control Accountability Plans (LCAP) how they will help homeless students, through tracking their test scores and other accountability measures.

The law is believed to be the first of its kind in the nation, according to Ed Source. Most districts drew up their LCAPs for this year before the law went into effect, but LA Unified is ahead of the ball, having already set aside $1.8 million in its 2015-16 LCAP specifically to help homeless students.

Estimates put LA Unified’s homeless student population at almost 16,000, which is more than the entire student population of about 900 of California’s 1,000-plus districts, so LA Unified has had no problem figuring out what to do with the extra funds, which is going toward expanding its Homeless Education Program.

The program, which is part of the Pupil Services division, will be increasing its number of counselors to 19, from seven, and doubling the number of aides, to four.

Of its seven current counselors, two were stationed at specific schools with high homeless populations and the other five were at the district’s Educational Service Centers. Erika Torres, director of pupil services for LA Unified, said plans are still being worked out where to station the new counselors, but they may work out of actual homeless shelters or FamilySource centers, which the district runs in partnership with the city.

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LA Unified launching new campaign aimed at sexting education

sextingIn a campaign that may be the most ambitious in the state, if not the country, LAUSD is gearing up to launch an anti-sexting campaign for students, teachers and parents.

The launch is scheduled for early in the new school year in all middle and high schools, said Judy Chiasson, the district’s program coordinator for School Operations, Human Relations, Diversity & Equity.

“We monitor what are the emerging trends and what affects the schools, and we determined we need to focus on this issue as a standalone spotlight,” said Chiasson, who noted that the sexting issue has already been a part of the bullying prevention and safety campaign for many years. Now, she said, schools need to focus more attention on the issue.

Before launching the educational campaign to the schools, the program coordinators intend to consult with focus groups of parents, teachers, police and social service experts to make sure the message is appropriate, Chiasson said.

The anti-sexting campaign did not necessarily crop up from the Venice High School incident earlier this year when 15 boys were arrested on suspicion of sexually harassing two girls. Ultimately, prosecutors declined to file charges, and the ACLU suggested education instead of punishment at the school level.

“We have been planning something like this for a long time,” said Chiasson, who is working on the sexting education with Holly Priebe-Diaz, the intervention coordinator who is leading the campaign.

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UTLA gearing up for SCOTUS Friederichs decision, whatever it is

supreme courtNow that the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear Friedrichs vs. California Teachers Association, a 2013 case with huge implications for unions’ nationwide in their ability to collect dues, the Los Angeles teachers union, UTLA, is gearing up for whatever the justices decide.

A victory by the plaintiffs would reverse a decades-old precedent, Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, that requires non-union members to pay dues under a “fair share” rationale that non-members derive the same benefits as a members.

Friedrichs is challenging California’s largest teachers union on First Amendment grounds, arguing, in part, that mandatory union dues deny individual members the right of free speech through lobbying efforts and campaign contributions that don’t necessarily comport with the views of all union members.

But either way Friedrichs goes, UTLA will be prepared, said Jeff Good, the union’s Executive Director.

“There’s been a concentrated effort and an on-going effort to turn UTLA into an organizing union and an organizing culture,” he told LA School Report, pointing to the union’s mission to bolster a closer, “two-way relationship” with members of the community.

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Zimmer, on success of public (ed) system in LA: ‘A very open question’

ZImmer Board Meeting March 3, 2014

LA Unified’s new board president, Steve Zimmer, had a recent chat with Politico, and some of his comments reached its Education Morning Edition today.

Nothing surprising until the final paragraph, when he expresses his hope that the selection of a new superintendent to replace the soon-to-be-leaving Ramon Cortines doesn’t “devolve into another ground war over schooling, pitting traditional public school advocates against education reformers,” as Politico put it.

Zimmer responds by saying he hopes to elevate the conversation, adding, “The premise, the baseline assumption, is that a large public system can’t work,” he said. “But that’s still a very open question in Los Angeles.”

He did not elaborate. Or if he did, it wasn’t included in the Politico report.

Elsewhere, Zimmer acknowledged the disruptive issues of the last year or so — iPads, MiSiS, questions over contract bidding, an FBI probe, the departure of former superintendent John Deasy —  and said, “We’re literally at a pivot point.”

“The bruises and wounds that John Deasy and all the controversy around him had left were almost as dangerous to the district as the budget crisis itself,” he added, describing Cortines as a major stabilizing force in helping to balance a budget and in reaching agreement with the teachers union on a new contract.

“So we have to transition from a person who is literally the most skilled school system leader in the country,” he said, “to new leadership in a community that is just healing.”

Crystal ball test says it can predict child’s literacy skill at 3 years old


By Corey Turner

If this isn’t an honest-to-goodness crystal ball, it’s close.

Neurobiologist Nina Kraus believes she and her team at Northwestern University have found a way — a half-hour test — to predict kids’ literacy skill long before they’re old enough to begin reading.

When I first read the study in the journal PLOS Biology, two words came to mind: science fiction.

Because flagging some 3-year-olds as potentially troubled readers — before they’ve even tried reading — feels eerily like being handcuffed by Tom Cruise in Minority Report for a crime that hasn’t happened yet.

Kraus herself says the test is nothing short of “a biological looking glass into a child’s literacy potential.”

Click here for the full story.

Morning Read: Long Beach Unified pressed to rename Lee Elementary

Long Beach board under pressure to rename Robert E. Lee Elementary
Dozens of schools throughout the nation bear the name of Lee, who commanded the Army of Northern Virginia during the Civil War. NY Daily News

Why NYC is experimenting with new ways to desegregate public schools
Advocates of school integration say the tide is starting to change in the country’s largest school district. Slate

CA improves in children’s health but slips to 49th in financial security
The annual KIDS COUNT report on the welfare of the country’s children tells a mixed story of how California is faring in providing for its kids. KPCC

Flat funding threatens push for quality after-school programs
State leaders have rejected a proposal to provide cost-of-living increases for after-school program. Ed Source

U.S. Department Of Education releases parent checklist
The checklist follows the set of rights that the U.S. Department of Education recently released. iSchoolGuide

LAUSD going GLOBE-al with drought education program

image_galleryLA Unified students and teachers this week are helping educate scientists and instructors from 34 countries, with a focus on how they are handling California’s water crisis.

The GLOBE Program (Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment) is a federal effort aimed at expanding the understanding of global environment to a worldwide audience. As part of its 19th annual conference, now underway at the Universal Sheraton, GLOBE is joining with the district to teach instructors about southern California’s persistent drought and how to mitigate its impact. The curriculum includes explaining how to work with moisture in the ground and how to engage students in learning about the drought.

As an example, children and teachers from Hamlin Charter Academy in West Hills and Gault Street Elementary in Van Nuys will be showing other schools their WaterBuddy Curricula, a training and awareness program geared for teachers, parents and children to inspire a love of English and a fondness for new water words. It helps with English learning and science and math, leading to hands-on drought-tolerant school gardens and butterfly habitats.

There is also instruction for how to save trees on the school grounds and revamp school gardens to use less water.

According to GLOBE, “In LA and the San Fernando valley, low to moderate income children and struggling students are able to join other children in many countries through GLOBE’s Star measurements and either catch up, or join others in wondering about the future and choose to involve themselves in new outcomes at school, at home or along the LA watershed.”

Students actually help provide data for worldwide study.

Henry Ortiz, the LAUSD district GLOBE partner, is hosting the event along with NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, UCLA, USC, California Science Center and Raytheon.

Report: More-low income kids take ACT, but results are stagnant

graduateThere’s a little good news/bad news in a new report analyzing the college-readiness of low-income students who took the ACT test.

More low-income students than ever took the test in 2014, according to the report, and a high level of them expressed a plan to attend college.

But the bad news: performance by low-income students on the test remained stagnant for a fifth straight year.

The report from ACT and the National Council for Community and Education Partnerships — The Condition of College & Career Readiness 2014: Low Income Students — found that a high-level of low-income students, 96 percent, who took the test had plans to attend college, compared with 86 percent of other students. However, half of the low-income students did not meet any of the four key ACT College Readiness Benchmarks, compared with 31 percent of all students.

“We’ve known for a long time that family income and educational success are strongly correlated, and these data confirm that,” Jim Larimore, ACT chief officer for the advancement of underserved learners, said in a statement. “Our hope is that these findings will bring more attention to the urgent need to improve the academic quality of instruction these students receive and the rigor of courses offered at their schools.”

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To speed up probes, LAUSD has doubled investigation team

miramonte schoolThe staff that investigates allegations against residents of LA Unified’s “teacher jail” has doubled since the team started last year, with the aim of clearing cases faster.

The Student Safety Investigation Team (SSIT) now has 15 members, including six full-time investigators, four LA school police, two forensic specialists and one supervising investigator. The team is directed by Jose Cantu, who has worked at LAUSD for more than 30 years, including 14 years as a principal at Eastman Avenue Elementary School.

“This is unique for a team like this in any school district in the United States,” said district spokeswoman Shannon Haber.

The backgrounds of the staff working on the SSIT reflect expertise in police policies and investigative education.

One of the investigators is formerly from the Los Angeles Sheriff’s department. Three investigators once worked for the Los Angeles Police Department.

One of the investigators has had FBI experience and one is from the Department of Social Services.

The SSIT investigates employee misconduct against students while the subject of the investigation, a teacher or staff member, is moved from the classroom to “jail.” The team responds to complaints from a variety of sources, such as students, a fellow teacher or a parent. If an investigation produces evidence of criminal misconduct, the SSIT will take it to the proper authorities.

As of July 1, SSIT members were investigating 174 district employees, most of them teachers. The total includes 65 accused of questionable sexual abuse or harassment while the rest face accusations on a variety of other issues, including 55, who have been cited for acts of violence.

The total reflects 151 certificated employees and 23 classified, such as teacher assistants, library aides, janitors and other support staff.

Kids learn to hack and crack in cyberspace at NSA summer camp

New York Times logo

By Nicholas Fandos

This is not your typical summer sleepaway camp.

Bonfires and archery? Try Insecure Direct Object References and A1-Injections.

The dozen or so teenagers staring at computers in a Marymount University classroom here on a recent day were learning — thanks to a new National Security Agency cybersecurity program that reaches down into the ranks of American high school and middle school students — the entry-level art of cracking encrypted passwords.

“We basically tried a dictionary attack,” Ben Winiger, 16, of Johnson City, Tenn., said as he typed a new command into John The Ripper, a software tool that helps test and break passwords. “Now we’re trying a brute-force attack.”

Click here for the full story.

Morning Read: Man wins $25,000 for voting in LAUSD board election

Voter in L.A. school board race wins $25,000 for casting a ballot
An experiment in boosting chronic low-turnout local elections ended Friday when Rojas, a 35-year-old security guard, received a check. Los Angeles Times

Commentary: LAUSD still persecuting one of the nation’s best teachers
Esquith is being treated like a Wall Street cheat. Washington Post

Homeless students get new attention in school accountability plans
School districts must spell out how they will help the state’s 310,000 homeless students and make goals for their progress. ED Source

Senate ESEA rewrite fits Brown’s ed agenda
The surprisingly bipartisan rewrite of ESEA would remove a lot of uncertainty surrounding key policy work undertaken by Gov. Jerry Brown. SI&A Cabinet Report

LAUSD audit allegations still under internal review
In November, the inspector general’s investigation unit was called-in to begin reviewing allegations that could rise to criminal activity. Los Angeles Daily News

Saving the last links to Native American culture
Preserving a record of California’s indigenous culture is at the heart of a new law that creates a specialized teaching credential for American Indian culture. SI&A Cabinet Report

Most in LAUSD ‘jail’ facing charges of sexual misconduct, violence

teacher jailDespite persistent concerns about teachers sexually harassing or abusing students in the classroom, only slightly more than a third of the teachers and other school personnel currently in LA Unified’s so-called “teacher jail” have been accused of sexual misconduct, according to the district’s latest accounting.

Almost the same number are facing accusations of “violence.”

As of July 1, a total of 174 district employees, the vast majority of them teachers, have been taken out of classrooms, awaiting the results of an investigation into charges. The total includes 65 accused of questionable sexual abuse or harassment, about 37 percent, while the rest face accusations on a variety of other issues, including 55 (or 32 percent) who have been cited for violent acts.

The total reflects 151 certificated employees and 23 classified, such as teacher assistants, library aides, janitors and other support staff.

The list, made available to LA School Report, is the first comprehensive breakdown of misconduct allegations being investigated by the district’s Student Safety Investigative Team (SSIT). And while it suggests that large numbers of personnel are still being taken out classrooms and schools for the goal of protecting students, it also shows that the district is making progress on clearing cases at a faster pace than in years past.

The district said today that the number of housed district employees reached a peak on April 9, 2013, with 322 teachers who were removed from classrooms.

“The district continues to deal with the housed teachers situation as quickly as possible, and they have expanded the staff and the scope for the investigations,” said Shannon Haber, the LAUSD district spokeswoman. “As of July 1, the SSIT is investigating all sexual and nonsexual allegations which have resulted in the teachers being reassigned.”

In a statement, UTLA said: “The ‘teacher jail’ system that ballooned under former Superintendent John Deasy was broken. In our new collective bargaining agreement with LAUSD, important changes were made that protect both students and due process rights of educators.”

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Senate NCLB rewrite gets lots of praise, some yawns, a few boos

Senator Elizabeth Warren NCLB

Senator Elizabeth Warren

The Senate passed a rewrite of the expired No Child Left Behind law yesterday with broad, bipartisan support.

The George W. Bush-era law is controversial due to the high-stakes standardizing testing it ushered in, and the Senate’s bill would strip away much of the federal government’s test-and-punish powers.

The bipartisan support it received is in contrast to a rival House bill that passed last week without a single Democrat voting in favor of it. The two bills now set up “a showdown between the two chambers, and leaves the fate of a final measure in doubt,” the New York Times reported.

Many leading Republicans and Democrats have voiced support for the Senate’s version, although the White House had a lukewarm reaction, and Senator Elizabeth Warren, a prominent national figure in the Democratic party, was one of three Democrats to vote against it.

Here is a sampling of reaction to the Senate action from political and education leaders:

  • “This bill still falls short of truly giving every child a fair shot at success by failing to ensure that parents and children can count on local leaders to take action when students are struggling to learn.”— Education Secretary Arne Duncan. The Hill
  • “Every student in America will be better off under this legislation than the generation of students wronged by No Child Left Untested. This bill reflects a paradigm shift away from the one-size-fits-all assessments that educators know hurt students, diminish learning, narrow the curriculum and that they fought to change.” — NEA President Lilly Eskelsen-García. NEA Today
  • “I cannot in good conscience support a bill that falls short of investing in the potential and promise of all of our children, especially New Jersey’s most vulnerable students.” Senator Corey Booker, one of three Democrats to vote against the bill. Politico

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New National PTA president wants to move beyond bake sales

seattle-times-logo11By Caitlin Moran

These days, parent-teacher associations are about more than bake sales and art projects.

Individual regions and councils tackle concerns that range from cyber-bullying to achievement gaps and from the importance of early reading skills to including families that speak a language other than English at home.

Laura Bay says she’s ready to take on all of those issues in her new role as president of National PTA, the largest volunteer child advocacy organization in the country. Bay, who lives in Poulsbo, first got involved in the PTA in the early 1990s when her oldest son, Andrew, started kindergarten at Bremerton’s View Ridge Elementary School.

Click here for the full story.

Morning Read: Vergara group brings new lawsuit over teacher evaluations

Group sues 13 districts for not using test scores in teacher evaluations
The lawsuit targets school systems in the state that have barred the use of test results through collective-bargaining agreements with teachers unions. Los Angeles Times

CA law bars consent as a defense in child sexual-abuse lawsuits
Gov. Brown announced he signed legislation introduced after LAUSD avoided liability for a teacher having sex with a 14-year-old girl. Orange County Register

No-bid practice for funding school projects found illegal
Billions of dollars in California school construction projects are now in legal limbo. San Francisco Chronicle

Half of new teachers quit profession in 5 years? Not true, new study says
The U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Educational Statistics made the new finding in a study released in April. Ed Source

Crime stats show troubling trend at nation’s schools
A general decline in serious crime on K-12 school campuses nationwide appears to be reversing. SI&A Cabinet Report

Senate approves bill to revamp ‘No Child Left Behind’

New York Times logoBy Jennifer Steinhauer

WASHINGTON — For this first time in 14 years, the Senate on Thursday approved a revised version of No Child Left Behind, the signature Bush-era education law that ushered in an era of broadly reviled, high-stakes standardized testing.

But the passage of the bill on an 81-17 vote, coming just a week after the House narrowly passed its own version, sets up a showdown between the two chambers, and leaves the fate of a final measure in doubt.

Both bills return some key power to local governments but differ over the role of the federal government and funding allocations.

Congress has repeatedly failed in its efforts to rewrite the law over the last several years.

At the heart of the debate between Democrats and Republicans is the appropriate role for the federal government in education programs, which are largely a function of state and local governments.

[In Los Angeles, LA Unified Superintendent Ramon Cortines issued the following statement:

“We would like to applaud the bipartisan effort of the U.S. Senate, which cleared a major hurdle today by ending debate and voting to pass the Every Child Achieves Act, (S.1177). We would especially like to thank Sens. Lamar Alexander and Patty Murray for their strong leadership in moving this bill through the Senate. The passage of this compromise bill is a major step in overhauling the long-overdue Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

“Though not perfect, this Senate bill reflects positive progress toward fixing the punitive accountability standards under the No Child Left Behind Act. It also moves our national education system toward a structure that provides more control for states and local school districts, while preserving reasonable federal accountability parameters with increased transparency.

“We do continue to have serious concerns with the House’s Student Success Act (H.R. 5), and hope the harmful provisions will be resolved during conference committee. We strongly urge that any final conferenced bill not include the harmful Title I ‘Portability’ provision that is included the House bill.

“Today’s action shows that our federal government can overcome the disagreement and gridlock that regularly affects Congress and, instead, work together to pass a bill with broad consensus. While this vote is a major step in the right direction, we urge Congress to provide the resources needed to assist L.A. Unified and school districts throughout the country to effectively implement a reauthorized education act, allowing us to continue our work of helping all students succeed.”]

To read the full New York Times story, cluck here.


Report: Majority of school districts lack LGBT anti-bullying policies

Caitlyn Jenner

Caitlyn Jenner

A majority of American school districts have no policies protecting LGBT students from bullying, with California also coming in on the low-end, according to a new report that looked at the anti-bulliing policies of districts across the nation.

The Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN) analyzed the policies of 13,000 districts in all 50 states and the District of Columbia from 2008-11 and found that 30 percent lacked any anti-bullying policy at all, and of the 70 percent that do, only half included protections for LGBT students.

In California, 54.9 percent of districts have specific LGBT anti-bullying policies, which ranks ahead of seven other states, according to the report. LA Unified is one of the districts that has such a policy, as the school board passed a specific LGBT anti-bullying resolution in 2011.

The report stated that GLSEN believes “that if LGBT students are not made aware of explicit protections provided to them their ability to fully exercise their rights when experiencing bullying and harassment may be limited.” It also said research showed that “students who believe that their schools have LGBT-inclusive policies experience better school climates.”

With the report ending its analysis in 2011, it is likely that some districts have added LGBT anti-bullying policies or will have in the future, as LGBT rights and acceptance have become widespread around the country. For example, in 2011, President Obama, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other leading progressives still opposed a federal policy legalizing gay marriage and have since changed their stance.

The report also comes amid a string of recent historic victories for the LGBT community, including the Supreme Court’s ruling legalizing gay marriage nationwide and even the acclaim and praise heaped on former Olympian Caitlyn Jenner, who this week received ESPN’s Arthur Ashe Courage Award after coming out publicly as a transgendered woman. Jenner dedicated a portion of her speech to the bullying many LGBT children face.

“If someone wanted to bully me, you know I was the MVP of the football team and that just wasn’t going to be a problem. And the same thing goes tonight,” Jenner said. “If you want to call me names, make jokes, doubt my intentions, go ahead, because the reality is, I can take it. But for the thousands of kids out there coming to terms with being true to who they are, they shouldn’t have to take it.”

LA Unified offering new teachers a course in stress relief

teacher stressAcknowledging the challenges facing new teachers with the aim of helping them have long careers, LA Unified is offering classes this month to help freshly-minted teachers learn how to deal with stress.

The district is offering a the New Teacher Summer Institute, a five-day series of workshops, with about 1,800 teachers expected to take the courses. The program was organized by Suzanne Silverstein, founding director of the Psychological Trauma Center at Cedars-Sinai, who initiated the course for LA Unified last year.

The workshops include guest speakers and information covering employee benefits and classroom management.

Silverstein lectures at the seminar and explains ways to focus and slow down. She uses listening sticks and Tibetan singing bowls to help perpetuate a sense of calm. Students use the sticks (which they make themselves) to pass around, and only the stick holder can speak.

The idea is to create a quiet working environment for the students, which also relieves stress for the teacher. There are also seminars such as “Addressing Student Behavior” and “Writing Objectives.”

In the face of anticipated teacher shortages, LAUSD continues to look for new teachers, and as many teachers say, it is important to keep them happy and well-trained for their job. Some say stress is the biggest reason for teachers leaving the profession, and a large percentage of new teachers leave the profession after only two years.

A link to the course registration for is here.

Cortines’ sexual harassment accuser says he was terminated in retaliation

Superintendent Ray Cortines

Despite widespread praise for his leadership of LA Unified, including standing ovations at recent school board meetings, Superintendent Ramon Cortines finds himself facing a familiar adversary, a veteran district employee who is now accusing the district of firing him in retaliation for his past lawsuits against Cortines.

Scot Graham, who accused Cortines of sexual harassment in three previous lawsuits, is claiming in a new one that they cost him his job. He was dismissed by the district in April after 15 years as Director of Real Estate.

“As a direct and proximate result of the unlawful acts of Defendants, Plaintiff has suffered and continues to suffer from loss of earnings and other damages,” Graham says in his lawsuit, filed in a Los Angeles state Superior Court.

LA Unified spokeswoman Shannon Haber said the district would not comment on personnel matters.

Graham’s accusations came to light in 2012, a year after Cortines had retired from his second of three periods serving as superintendent. Graham claimed Cortines made a series of unwanted sexual advances and comments toward him dating back to 2000 when Graham was first hired as Director of Real Estate and Cortines was running the district during his first stint. Two previous lawsuits never made it to court, as one was dismissed and the other was withdrawn.

Cortines has denied any wrongdoing while admitting only that he had a sexual encounter with Graham.

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