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Edina Young Conservatives Club lawsuit inspires bill in Legislature

MinnPost photo by Erin Hinrichs
Left to right: Edina High School Student Jazmine Edmond, Senior Fellow at the Center of the American Experiment Katherine Kersten, Sen. Carla Nelson, and Edina High Student Tatum Buyse.

On March 1, the Edina School Board approved a settlement agreement with the Edina High School Young Conservatives Club. In December, a handful of students from the group had filed a free-speech lawsuit against the district and its high school principal, alleging school officials had wrongfully terminated their club and essentially posed a double standard when it came to upholding students’ First Amendment rights.

At a school event this past fall, some students had refused to stand during a playing of “Taps.” Offended, some club members had reportedly denounced these peers on social media — a reaction that allegedly triggered hostile retaliatory comments and actions from their peers that were not mitigated by school administrators.

The district rejected these claims, asserting the district supports the freedom of expression  so long as such views “do not disrupt the educational environment, constitute threats or harassment, or target others based on protected statuses such as race, religion and sexual orientation.” The district has also fought to set the record straight on a pretty basic omission in this case: The club had not actually reapplied for sponsorship for the current school year.  

Ultimately, both parties agreed to settle the lawsuit with no payments made and no admission of wrongdoing on the part of the district. The agreement did, however, include two changes to district policies: One affirms students’ free speech rights; another forbids disbanding a club “solely upon the exercise of free speech … unless that conduct interferes with the school’s basic education mission.”

But the debate over students’ free-speech rights — fanned by fears that the right to express conservative viewpoints is being stifled in liberal-leaning classrooms — has made its way to the Minnesota Legislature. On Thursday, the Senate Education Policy Committee held a hearing on an “Academic Balance” bill, authored by Sen. Carla Nelson, R-Rochester.

The bill is being backed by many of the same players behind the Edina lawsuit. In brief, it would require school boards to adopt a policy that sets stricter parameters around how and when educators elicit social or political viewpoints from students or share their own. As the various testifiers revealed, at its core this bill pits proponents of teaching through an equity lens against those who feel this approach is victimizing conservative students.

“Let me be very clear, I think the emotion and the fear and the retaliation and the anger and the hurt that we have heard, regarding what has happened in one of our schools — and perhaps many other schools — is something we, as education leaders, need to take very seriously,” Nelson said, referring to Edina high schoolers who’d testified in support of her bill. “I do not believe it’s the job of a teacher to tell a student that his or her opinion — or their parents’ opinions — are wrong. But it is their job to make sure that we have a fair and academic balance when we talk about these controversial issues.”

Defining ‘academic balance’

Nelson’s bill would require school boards to adopt an “academic balance” policy that would seek to strip political, ideological and religious bias out of all student assessments and mandate that schools provide access to a “broad range of serious opinions.”

Furthermore, it would prohibit school employees from requiring students or employees from “expressing specified viewpoints” to access things like academic credit, extracurricular activities and employment. And, in singling out teachers, the bill would prohibit them from introducing controversial matters “without a relationship to the subject taught.”

These policies would apply to students, teachers, school administrators and other school staff. In terms of accountability measures, it calls for school boards to implement a reporting procedure and disciplinary actions for policy violations.

In presenting the bill to her colleagues, Nelson called her proposal “very common sense and straightforward.” Then Katherine Kersten, a senior policy fellow at the Center of the American Experiment, kicked off public testimony.

Sen. Eric Pratt, R-Prior Lake
MinnPost photo by Erin Hinrichs
Sen. Eric Pratt, R-Prior Lake, addressing the proposed bill at the Senate Education Policy Committee hearing on March 7.

Speaking in support of the bill, Kersten criticized the Edina district’s strategic plan, which mandates that all teaching and learning experiences be filtered through the “lens of racial equity.” She claimed this framework seeks to indoctrinate students, from a young age, into believing that “white people are, by definition, oppressors” and “all others are oppressed.”

“White students are learning that they are complicit in the exploitation and oppression of minority students, simply by the virtue of the color of their skin. This engenders … shame, guilt and cynicism,” she said. “Minority students suffer even greater harm. They are being conditioned at an early age to view themselves, reflexively, as victims.”

Jazmine Edmond, an Edina student who was part of the lawsuit, said she has seen “teachers being openly aggressive to students, just because they may disagree with their views.” She also claims she and her conservative peers were bullied through social media and “shoved and yelled at in the halls,” yet nothing was done when they reported these incidents to school administrators.

While moderating the hearing, Sen. Eric Pratt, R-Prior Lake, chair of the Senate Education Policy Committee, jumped in on more than one occasion to voice support for the bill.

“Many of us on the conservative side have often felt our viewpoint is suppressed in public schools,” he said after hearing testimony in opposition to the bill. “I think there is a general political leaning for those who enter the education system, just as there is a political leaning for those who enter the banking system, for example.”

‘The repeal of racial equity’

Earlier in the week, prior to the introduction of Nelson’s bill, Kersten — along with Edina students and parents backing the bill — testified before the Senate committee on E-12 finance, which is led by Nelson.

Josh Crosson, senior policy director with Ed Allies, who attended that earlier meeting, called this bill an attempt by Kersten and a group of Edina parents to repeal racial equity programs across the state.

“During these hearings, I’ve heard concepts like white privilege, white supremacy … and that even discussing our country’s history of colonization and slavery [should be] deemed political and social indoctrination, which would be prohibited by this legislation,” he said. “To me, it sounded like the groups supported this legislation in order to convert our welcoming schools initiatives — and even our state standards — to serve the comforts of our most privileged.”

He underscored the fact that we cannot talk about the achievement gap without talking about race. Even low-income white students in Minnesota are outpacing their black, Latino and Native American peers, overall. And in order to address these disparities, everyone must “lean into and not away from race equity solutions,” he said.

This work must involve tackling issues like implicit and explicit bias, recognizing and addressing historical trauma and building a more inclusive curriculum that reflects the experiences of all racial and ethnic groups, he added — all measures that could be interpreted as out-of-bounds if the”‘academic balance” policy were to be enforced they way its most vocal supporters deemed appropriate.

David Aron, a staff attorney for the state teachers union Education Minnesota, called the bill “unnecessary, unworkable and very likely unconstitutional.” He also pointed out how such an attempt to “micromanage schools” runs counter to the local-control agenda largely backed by conservatives.

“I hear there are attempts to encourage students to respect one another that are misconstrued as censorship or bias against conservative students,” he said, noting teachers are doing their best to toe a fine line when it comes to addressing racially and socially charged issues at school.

Offering an example of this, Tim Klobuchar, an English teacher of 17 years in the Edina district, says that his school’s black student union had scheduled a blackout — a visual call to action for equity and tolerance for black students in which students wear all black — for the day after Election Day. When conservative students — some of whom had been wearing Trump shirts the day before — participated by wearing all black, they experienced some backlash from their peers.

Tim Klobuchar, Sen. Carla Nelson, Tom Connell
MinnPost photo by Erin Hinrichs
Left to right: Edina High teacher Tim Klobuchar, Sen. Carla Nelson and Education Minnesota/Edina President Tom Connell.

Klobuchar said he had one girl in class get so upset that she “said her piece” and walked out of class. He attempted to mediate the situation by talking with members of the Young Conservatives club who had been offended by her actions after class, he said, by asking them to see things from her point of view.

“I said some people feel Trump is supportive of racist politics and that’s why she’s upset,” he said, adding he respectfully acknowledged their beliefs as well. He said he approached the student who had walked out of class later on, asking her to put herself in her peers’ shoes. But he didn’t feel it would have been appropriate to confront her in front of the class.

Raising another concern about the bill, Dave Edwards, parent of a transgender elementary-aged daughter, asserted the bill would create an environment that is less safe for her because it would prohibit teachers from talking about “controversial matters without a relationship to the subject matter being taught.”

“My daughter is still transgender during math, at recess and in the lunchroom,” he said. “There are not two sides to treating her equitably. If teachers can’t respond with factual information about gender identity or other protected classes when questions arise, students can’t feel safe in school.”

Several Democratic lawmakers opposed the bill, raising concerns that it was unnecessary — because bullying and free-speech rights are already addressed by local policies and state statute — and perhaps even unconstitutional.

“We have political leaders who engage in racial stereotypes and that openly incite violence. It creates a climate that affects all of us and it trickles down to our kids. It’s a problem. And the fact that we’re here today is a sign of that,”said Sen. Susan Kent, DFL-Woodbury. “My primary objection to this bill — and I do find it a little ironic — is it just goes against every bit of local control that we’ve all talked about.”

Comments (27)

  1. Submitted by Matt Haas on 03/12/2018 - 09:59 am.

    Never doubt the power of delusion

    So let me see if I follow, since indoctrination in school is such a terrible problem, conservatives feel the solution is to codify conservative indoctrination through legislation. One literally cannot make it up.

  2. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 03/12/2018 - 10:00 am.

    Once again…

    …my irony meter has broken.

    That anyone outside of Ms. Kersten’s family and workplace would take her testimony seriously is one of the great mysteries of the universe. If Ms. Nelson is an “educational leader,” it will come as a great surprise to many in Minnesota.

    It’s possible to teach math without there being any political overtones, though one might have be thoughtful about the examples presented to illustrate a concept, but it’s not possible to teach American or world history, or geography, or elementary school social studies without politics, and, in this context, race, being part of the discussion. Internationally, wars do not erupt organically from some mysterious cosmic force. They are the result of political ideology and decision-making. Domestically, slaves did not volunteer to become slaves, nor did American Indians in this country volunteer to give up their lands to live on reservations. A “conservative” explanation for housing and economic segregation is likely to be a masterpiece of tortured syntax that, in the end, avoids reality more or less completely.

    In the context of the proposed legislation – which flies in the face of “conservative” rhetoric regarding “local control” that routinely emanates from the Center for the American Experiment and similar organizations – the legislative proposal itself represents an especially pernicious form of censorship and, not accidentally, propaganda. It’s also the antithesis of “local control.” I hope there are more sensible heads in the legislature than the ones belonging to Ms. Kersten and Ms. Nelson. If not, a long series of lawsuits will eventually tell them what they should already know – this is an unconstitutional bill that has nothing to do with education and everything to do with indoctrination.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 03/12/2018 - 10:19 am.

      Math Without Political Overtone

      Good luck with that. There are certain types too close to the mainstream for comfort who object to the teaching of relativity in schools. The objection is that it teaches that there is no single, absolute reality, which leads to the conclusion that there is no absolute morality, and that . . . no, I can’t finish.

      Don’t get them started on set theory (how can you have multiple infinities?).

  3. Submitted by RB Holbrook on 03/12/2018 - 10:01 am.

    Kersten Logic!

    Ms. Kersten believes that filtering all teaching and learning experiences through the “lens of racial equity” will indoctrinate students into believing that “white people are, by definition, oppressors” and “all others are oppressed.” There are so many things wrong with that notion that I don’t know where to start. It tacitly acknowledges that white people are oppressors, if racial equity makes them out to be the bad guys. To avoid stigmatizing white people, the schools must ignore racial equity and (presumably) the fact that white people are the beneficiaries of that inequity.

    Since Ms. Kersten has never shown herself to be constrained by such a petty thing as consistency, I don’t expect her to refrain from the norms of right-wing discourse that include snark about “snowflakes” and “safe places.” A ritual invocation of Martin Luther King (or the 20-some famous words that get taken out of context to define his life and career) will still issue forth, on schedule, whenever it is demanded of her. The sad thing is that none of what she says seems to bother her Republican fans.

  4. Submitted by Raj Maddali on 03/12/2018 - 11:08 am.

    The lawsuit went nowhere

    As predicted, the lawsuit went nowhere fast. ‘Cause at the core of the issue was the Conservative Club’s students taunting of students. If the Clubs attorney had such a strong case why was it settled for nothing? Yes nothing.

    This legislative hearing is another exercise in nonsense. Most of the issues of speech and conduct in schools are covered by federal law.

    • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 03/12/2018 - 12:19 pm.

      No Nonsense Here

      This is not in the least an exercise in nonsense. This is an election year, and one party only knows the politics of division and resentment. It is an exercise in campaigning without real ideas to improve society.

  5. Submitted by Karen Sandness on 03/12/2018 - 11:08 am.

    The students and political pundits who don’t want the underside of American history taught in school remind me of the Japanese political figures and pressure groups that talk about World War II only in terms of how much Japanese civilians suffered (which they indeed did) and otherwise imply that the whole world ganged up on poor little Japan for no reasons.

    Some go so far as to send death threats to people who write about things like the Nanjing Massacre and the Bataan Death March.

    But both the suffering of Japanese civilians resulting not only from the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki but also from the saturation fire bombing of every major city, and the battlefield atrocities really happened, and to teach one without the other is in itself a form of political bias.

    So yes, the settlement of the West required bravery and ingenuity, creating farms and cities in the wilderness, but the story is not complete unless one mentions the devastating impacts on the Native American tribes in each region, ranging from displacement to outright mass slaughter.

  6. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 03/12/2018 - 11:35 am.

    Gosh, I seem to recall “safe spaces” and “snowflakes” were all used in a pejorative way with respect to liberal students just a few short months ago. Time moves very quickly these days.

    The myth of the persecuted conservative Christian persists unabated and it is oh so hard to face up to the fact that America was built on other peoples lands with other peoples labor.

  7. Submitted by Michael Friedman on 03/12/2018 - 11:38 am.

    not yet a serious debate

    The proposal seems to be a big government solution that will enrich lawyers for years, as what can and what cannot happen in classrooms gets sorted out. Not exactly sticking to conservative principles.

    When we must prioritize free speech and when we must prioritize not creating a hostile work/school environment is a valid societal debate that we all benefit by working through — but for which a propaganda group like CAE, funded not to defend principles but to provoke suburban fear in support of candidates best aligned with wealthy interests — is not a serious contributor.

  8. Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 03/12/2018 - 01:00 pm.

    Perhaps too many teachers are leading their students to question the logical leaps seen in the proposed conservative “solutions” for an on-line trashing process (students trashing students on Twitter and Facebook for their views and actions), to censoring teachers and whoop-de-doo assertions that advocating racial inclusion is destroying all conservative ideology being spoken. Whew!

    There is a conservative movement waiting in the wings for anything to be brought up, that they can hang onto as “hook” to attack all liberal educators. They took over the discussion of this ill-advised bill and ran with it.

  9. Submitted by Ron Gotzman on 03/12/2018 - 01:11 pm.

    Lets be fair….

    The political left “owns” public, union, trickle down education. Even the readers of MinnPost must admit that fact.

    Activist teachers (based on my own experience many years ago) regularly promoted politically liberal thought in the classroom. Once again – from my experience many years ago – conservative responses were “shut down” in the classroom and politically left ideas were activity promoted.

    These politically leftist positions and campaigning for democratic candidates in the classroom was occurring in history, social studies, journalism, literature, and science classes. I even grew up in a conservative community.

    I do not believe that any law will curtail the promotion of political agendas in public school classrooms today. Such laws are a waste of time and energy. The left will never surrender the ground they have “bought and paid for” in public education.

    For political conservatives, they must be willing to broadcast the obvious intolerance toward contrary views that challenges those who “own” the public education monopoly in the media. Of course – much of the media has been polarized as well.

    Maybe the solution to such obvious bias is the publically fund kids for their own education. The funding follows the kids – not the trickle down education model that we have today. Higher education uses this model today. Education could be breaking out all across MN as freedom is enhanced. This funding will be public since it involves every child. You cannot get more public than that.

    True choice in education will further education and freedom of speech.

    • Submitted by Matt Haas on 03/12/2018 - 03:20 pm.

      So the solution

      To political bias in the classroom, indoctrination, if you will, is simply “different” indoctrination, elsewhere, by folks you agree with. Freedom indeed.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 03/12/2018 - 03:47 pm.

      True Choice in Education

      You have every right to have your children educated in a private school. You even have the right to teach them at home. Knock yourself out.

      What you do not have is any reason to expect the state to pay for it. The state of Minnesota is constitutionally obligated to establish a general and uniform system of public schools. Note the word “uniform.” The state is not obligated to fund anyone’s choice to opt out of that system. In fact, the state is constitutionally prohibited from providing any aid to religious schools.

      It’s your choice, but it’s on your tab.

      • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 03/13/2018 - 09:40 am.

        No Expectations Here

        Speaking as the product of private parochial schools, and a home schooling parent, I couldn’t agree more. Money always comes with strings attached, and I’m not interested in tax payer dollars for educating my kids. We’re doing fine, with college educations well under way. As a supporter of parochial schools, I foresee harmful consequences from increased government involvement, and would encourage private schools to leave that Pandora’s Box unopened. (Why is it that those who say government ruins everything want government involvement in private schools they say are doing great?)

        In the next 20 to 40 years, God willing, I’ll need doctors, mechanics, HVAC techs, accountants, etc. Most of those people will be educated in public schools, so I’m a strong supporter of public schools.

    • Submitted by ian wade on 03/12/2018 - 06:48 pm.

      To be even more fair

      maybe kids just find the republican ideology doesn’t fit their view of the world. There’s no shortage of outlets that spell out the GOP dogma from Republicans themselves.

  10. Submitted by Sheila Kihne on 03/12/2018 - 05:23 pm.

    It’s a complete waste of time for conservatives to try to change the government-run schools. Pull your kids out. Another 10-15% that leave the district schools for non-union-run Charters, private, online/home schooling…..Progress.
    The colleges are another story.

  11. Submitted by Curtis Senker on 03/12/2018 - 06:47 pm.

    ~ Charter schools~ Private

    ~ Charter schools
    ~ Private schools
    ~ Home schools

    Thank God the choices are expanding, and folks are taking advantage of them.

    • Submitted by Matt Haas on 03/13/2018 - 01:53 pm.


      That is quite the admission as to the state of modern conservatism. That your worldview is SO odious, so unpersuasive, even to your own children, that the only means by which to ensure it’s survival is by cloistering the next generation in a balkanized education system, cut off from the wider world.

      • Submitted by Curtis Senker on 03/14/2018 - 10:38 am.

        Modern conservatism suggests we should care about our kids enough to do whatever it takes to raise them as well educated, well adjusted adults. Many (most) public schools are chaotic towers of babble, where science is turned on it’s head, anti-social attitudes are encouraged, divergent opinions are a codified offense, moral compasses are left at the same door from which kids are ejected into life confused, angry and all too often, semi-literate.

        Cloistered? Maybe. But “The home-educated typically score 15 to 30 percentile points above public-school students on standardized academic achievement tests. (The public school average is the 50th percentile; scores range from 1 to 99.) (Ray, 2015).”

        Which is nice if academic success is your focus for education…which in the public system, it’s not.

  12. Submitted by Grace McGarvie on 03/12/2018 - 10:04 pm.

    Intolerance of differing points of view

    What undemocratic world do the Republican senators envision with their proposal to “require public and charter schools to pass an “academic balance” policy prohibiting school employees from having students “express specified social or political viewpoints”? I taught 17 and18 year olds for 30 years and considered encouraging them to express “social and political viewpoints” one of my main objectives in encouraging them to be good citizens. Even Jefferson and Adams differed in their “social and political viewpoints” A democratic republic demands that people express their differing points of view. How would you introduce 17 and 18 year olds to their civic responsibilities by banning disagreement? Disagreement and differences are not sins nor illegal. Social and political viewpoints are the heart of democracy.

    Retired Wayzata High school teacher

    • Submitted by John Eidel on 03/13/2018 - 09:32 am.


      Teachers should strive to create a space where students with different viewpoints can debate and discuss those positions. If a students has a position at odds with the prevailing viewpoint on a particular issue, a good teacher gives that student the space to respectfully make their case but also allows other students to respectfully scrutinize it. A good teacher asks pointed questions to both sides in an effort to exercise the critical thinking skills of their students. Both current events and the historical record provide ample opportunities for the development of critical thinking in students of history and social studies, but there are actual facts that provide the framework for that debate. Fact: Africans were brought to the Americas and enslaved for 300 years. Fact: African Americans were tortured, brutalized and made second class citizens for at least 100 years after that. Fact: to this day, African Americans have higher poverty levels, higher levels of incarceration, higher unemployment and lower educational attainment among other metrics. How does a teacher or district give equal weight to a viewpoint at odds with these facts? A real debate might include students with different ideas on how to solve a particular problem, but the problem itself actually exists. To allow equal time for a viewpoint at odds with actual facts engenders the dumbing down of America. It might make a certain subset of Americans feel better to downplay the past and current discrimination of African Americans but it doesn’t get us any closer to actually solving the problems that they face.

      • Submitted by Karen Sandness on 03/13/2018 - 02:25 pm.

        Yes!There are right-wing


        There are right-wing media figures spouting all kinds of nonsense, including that the Irish were slaves, too, and that the Southern states’ secession wasn’t about slavery, but about some vague idea of “states’ rights,” since most white Southerners didn’t own slaves.

        These assertions by racial revisionists are simply false or misleading. The Irish who were in bondage were not slaves but indentured servants, a status that was sometimes punishment for a crime and sometimes voluntary, as a way of paying for passage to America to escape poverty and famine, always temporary (usually seven years), and never hereditary–the children of an indentured servant had free status. Not quite the same as being kidnapped into lifelong bondage with the knowledge that your children and grandchildren and descendants for the foreseeable future would be slaves, too.

        The secession of the Southern states most certainly was rooted in anxiety about slavery, especially after local authorities in parts of the North began refusing to enforce the Fugitive Slave Laws and after decades of disputes about whether slavery should be expanded into newly acquired territories. The declarations of secession from each Southern state mentioned preservation of slavery as a key issue. Even after the South was defeated, some 20,000 Confederates emigrated to Brazil, where slavery was still legal. While it was true that most white Southerners didn’t own slaves, those who did were the most prominent figures in business, politics, and the press, and some of these slave owners would rent or lend slaves to non-owners for specific jobs.Toward the end of the war, Confederate soldiers who did not own slaves began deserting in large numbers.

        Now if a student spoke up in an American history class saying that the Irish were enslaved exactly as Africans were or that the Civil War was not about slavery, it would be the teacher’s right–no, DUTY–to figure out where the student got this idea (probably from AM radio or some anonymous website) and to present the facts that disprove these assertions.

        That’s not “bias.” That’s speaking up for the truth and correcting agenda-serving lies.

  13. Submitted by Bob Petersen on 03/13/2018 - 11:55 am.

    It’s the Big Picture

    Schools are supposed to be a safe place for everyone. We have created a society that expects our schools to protect students based upon their beliefs. Insert whatever believe or creed you like and the kids should be safe. But what happens when there is a group of kids where no protection was offered? It shouldn’t matter because they are conservatives. It’s still wrong. If everyone takes off their silly bias lenses, you won’t get these types of hearings and proposed laws.

    In looking at the commentary, it seems there are a myriad of reasons of why this proposed legislation is stupid. But nothing gets at the crux that these kids were left to be bullied by Edina Schools only because of the fact of being conservative. Most people in the education system are good people, but that does not mean there are those without motivations of moving education to the way of their thinking, which almost every educator are card carrying Democrats.

    So who is the suffering minority in this story if minority protections are so valued?

    • Submitted by Matt Haas on 03/13/2018 - 01:20 pm.

      How exactly have they suffered?

      Were they given lesser grades as a result of their views? Were they expelled on that basis? Perhaps they were subject to increased disciplinary scrutiny based on their political ideology? No? Oh, right, they were called out after they engaged in racially motivated ridicule of others. Spare us the crocodile tears. Perhaps bring order to your own house, and others will be less inclined to do it for you.

  14. Submitted by Theo Kozel on 03/15/2018 - 01:58 pm.

    Leave it to the GOP

    Who can take a nothing-burger:

    “Ultimately, both parties agreed to settle the lawsuit with no payments made and no admission of wrongdoing on the part of the district”

    and turn it into drastic ideological intervention by the state into every classroom and between every teacher and student and still call themselves advocates of small-government, laissez-faire, decentralized government?

    The Minnesota GOP.

  15. Submitted by Joe Musich on 03/19/2018 - 08:04 pm.

    “….almost every….

    educator is a card carrying Democrat…” I would like to see your evidence for that statement ? And if so what difference does that really make when a person is learning about historical events, manipulating numbers or learning to use verbs ? It is a canard sir. I refer you here for the definition But the GOP has left a lot of dead canards in it’s wake. The action taken from the very beginning of this chain of events with the distribution of the phamphlet in Edina prior to the election to present is a shameful, impulse and destructive use of children to accomplish a political end. But that is the way isn’t it ! Again as said early the head splits with the irony. It is repulsive that the GOP literally views some as disposable.

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