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The Brief, Distressed Life of a Virtual School

In July 2020, my school district unveiled its “virtual school” as one means of educating students during a pandemic.

At the time, I was surprised to read that the district had planning to open a virtual school anyway. The pandemic just sped up the process. From the July 11, 2020,

The St. Tammany Parish Public Schools system already planned to unveil its new online school this year to meet the needs of families living in an increasingly digital world. But the surge of coronavirus cases has the program on a fast track. …

STPPS Virtual School is a software platform that allows teachers to work directly with students via an online connection. The school will adhere to the same educational standards of the district’s 55 brick and mortar campuses….

Teachers will use instructional videos and modules to teach students and will monitor their progress through daily interaction. Classes will be held on an online platform such as Zoom. The counselor will ensure older students are taking the right classes to graduate and help them with necessary transcripts and other paperwork as they prepare for college. …

Students who enroll in the virtual school will be asked to remain enrolled for the entire semester.

As for remaining enrolled for the entire semester:

Not so much.

During the first quarter of the school year, I began receiving students who were transferring from the virtual school, often with low or failing course averages, and I was not alone. Students were arriving on our doorstep near the end of a grading period from what appeared to be an ill-functioning virtual situation, and it seemed that we were expected to salvage the situation in the eleventh hour, so to speak.

One student who arrived in my class admitted to never having logged on even once to complete work in the online version of my course. I formulated a plan with this student to complete a number of assignments for me in short order so that this student’s first-quarter failing grade would be closer to passing, in hopes that averaging it with a healthier, second quarter grade might yield a passing average for the semester.

Near the end of the first quarter, the district publicized that students did not have to wait until the end of the semester to return to brick-and-mortar schools and could switch at the end of the first quarter. But the changes did not start with nor did they stop at the clean break of a grading period.

On January 23, 2021, I wrote about our virtual school’s whopper enrollment loads per teacher. An excerpt:

First-semester biology, 282 students; first-semester environmental science, 461 students– both belonging to the same teacher of record (who has an additional 91 students in two other classes).


First-semester US History, 306 students; first-semester World History, 129 students, AP US History, 48 students– all assigned to one teacher.

First-semester English I, 381 students; first-semester English I Honors, 55 students– both courses, one teacher.

First-semester Algebra I, 394 students assigned to one teacher, who also has another 125 students in 3 additional courses.

First-semester Government, 567 students. One teacher.

Making teachers responsible for so many students is problematic on its face.

Add to that the likes of my student who did not log into online class even once and you end up with something like this as part of an email announcement from the superintendent seven months later, in March 2021:

We are also making plans to close our STPPS Virtual School. The virtual school and online learning platform have served their purpose this school year in response to COVID, but it is in the best interest of our students to receive face-to-face instruction and support if possible. Our virtual school students will return to the physical schools in their attendance zone at the beginning of the 2021-2022 school year.

There was no mention of keeping the virtual school in operation “to meet the needs of families living in an increasingly digital world,” as the put it in July 2020.

Whether or not the virtual school actually “served it purpose” a matter for debate.

What is certainly true, however, is that “it is in the best interest of our students to receive face-to-face instruction and support if possible.”

STPPS Virtual School, we hardly knew ye.


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My Complete, Unedited Review of Doug Harris’ Book, Charter School City

In January 2020, Commonweal Magazine asked me to review Doug Harris’ book about New Orleans charter schools, Charter School City.

I completed my review in February 2020, but with the pandemic, my review was not published until November 2020.

As so often happens in publication, the review I submitted was pared down considerably, which editors reserve the right to do though the result might make the review seem shallow or incomplete. In this case (and to my dismay), the edits in one section involved a splicing that altered the meaning of my words. (For the backstory on that error, see this email exchange.)

According to the terms of my contract with Commonweal, I needed to wait 90 days before publicizing my originally-submitted, unedited review. And so, since those 90 days have passed, I offer below my complete review of Harris’ book.

Book Review: Douglas N. Harris, Charter School City: What the End of Traditional Public Schools in New Orleans Means for American Education, University of Chicago Press, April 2020.


My family is from New Orleans. My father and his siblings grew up in a white neighborhood, intentionally zoned, and attended all-white schools in the 1920s and 30s, also intentionally zoned. In the 1950s, my family relocated to neighboring St. Bernard Parish, as did many former white residents of New Orleans. My mother also grew up in New Orleans and relocated to St. Bernard, where she attended an all-white high school in the early to mid-1960s. Around the time my mother was a freshman in high school (1960), just as Ruby Bridges became the first black child to attend New Orleans’ all-white William Franz Elementary school,St. Bernard opened a school on the St. Bernard-Orleans Parish line expressly to allow white residents of New Orleans to use school vouchers to escape federally-mandated integration of New Orleans public schools. Though the voucher school was forced to close a year later, the virulent anti-black sentiment in the white communities of New Orleans and St. Bernard lived on.

In the 1966-67 school year, under pressure from the federal government, St. Bernard officially racially integrated its public schools, but not before the school board separated its middle and high schools by gender, to prevent adolescent black boys and adolescent white girls from attending the same public schools. In 1985, I graduated from an all-girls public high school. That same year, the St. Bernard school system was sued for not fully and completely integrating its schools, thereby depriving girls of the same extracurricular opportunities as the boys. My sister graduated in 1988; hers was the last graduating class from our all-female public high school.

Meanwhile, in New Orleans, white flight continued, either by white families outright moving to suburbs or by enrolling their children in New Orleans’ parochial schools. The governor, legislature, and Orleans Parish school board actively worked to suppress the economic advancement of New Orleans’ black citizens by limiting job advancement, educational opportunity, and housing options. As whites fled New Orleans, the tax base for public services and public maintenance shrunk, and, thanks to the ugly, ingrained, suppressive methods of whites in power, New Orleans had no solid, black middle class to serve as a sufficient tax base to support and maintain public services, including New Orleans’ public schools. And so, as one might logically expect, generations later, the public education situation in New Orleans had become dire.

I have yet to hear any authoritative, white voice from New Orleans publicly assuming responsibility for the horrid, nasty oppression that generations of white citizen resistance wreaked upon black citizen advancement in New Orleans, in, among other venues, its schools.

As I began reading Douglas Harris’ book, Charter School City, I wondered if its pages would include such an acknowledgement.

The answer is no.

The central focus of Harris’ work is to compare test score and graduation rate data for New Orleans public schools in years immediately preceding the 2005 devastation of Hurricane Katrina with test score and graduation data from post-Katrina (c.2006) to 2015. Based on these results (chapter 4 of the book), Harris considers New Orleans’ post-Katrina education reform efforts to be a success. Much of the book is devoted to examining possible reasons for improvement in the metrics. In chapter 9, Harris concludes that New Orleans test score and graduation rate improvements are a result of the state’s school takeover process.

Even as I read of New Orleans’ improvement, I could not help but think of the audit being conducted of New Orleans high school transcripts, and of initial findings of missing test scores and class credits, an audit conducted at the request of the New Orleans schools superintendent following a scandal that affected numerous would-be graduating seniors at one high school. I also thought of the numerous lawsuits for the release of New Orleans test data from the Louisiana Department of Education, which is run by a champion of New Orleans reform. Thus, I am not confident in the integrity of the data Harris analyzed.Even so, data integrity is not my principal concern.

In chapter 3, Harris details the state takeover of New Orleans schools in the chaotic aftermath of Katrina, and at the heart of it all is former state school board member and businesswoman, Leslie Jacobs. Harris credits Jacob with drafting legislation to declare most of New Orleans schools as failing, and she and a handful of other white affluent individuals form the core of what Harris refers to as the “reform community.” Harris notes the importance of this reform community coming together in order to effect its reforms, including being offered office space by Tulane University, a private, predominately white institution. Ironically, Harris promotes one community at the expense of another. The reform community intentionally shuts out the predominantly black New Orleans community in its planning, and indeed, this white, affluent reform community notably damages New Orleans’ black middle class by Orleans Parish School Board’s mass firing of its teachers in the weeks following Katrina. Harris views this mass firing as unfortunate but necessary for the success of the reform effort in New Orleans, the ultimate goal of which was to replace board-led, traditional public schools with a portfolio of independently-operated charter schools. One reason in particular that the New Orleans teachers had to go was that they were unionized, and their union contract included such stipulations as teachers being allowed to be tardy to school ten times prior to any corrective action and administrators being forbidden from observing teachers’ classes.

It’s a good thing that the reform community could rely on Teach for America for temporary, predominantly-white, inexperienced, out-of-state replacements, Harris notes.

When I read about the above conditions in the New Orleans teachers’ union contract, for a moment, I was surprised. I am a member of my local teachers’ union, and I have never heard of such conditions. But here is where researcher Harris should have gone further with his query: Why would New Orleans teachers feel the need for such job protections? Could it be tied to the generations of white, racist hostility at all levels of government and experienced by black New Orleans citizens who tried to establish a place for themselves and their families in the middle class? Harris asks no such questions, nor does he posit that including the true community in the reform community’s plans would have presented an opportunity to build a trust that might have resulted in some negotiation to modify that teaching contract, especially given that the contract was set to expire anyway in 2006, a fact that Harris acknowledges.

On the contrary, Harris celebrates Jacobs as a maverick of needed reform, seizing the moment and coming together with other white, affluent New Orleanians to create this charter school city.

In examining the reasons for test score improvement, Harris discovers that New Orleans parents want to have neighborhood schools as a choice option. He seems to nod with furrowed brow as he acknowledges that no such choice exists. Still, test scores are up. Too, in discussing the chartering process, Harris interviews black community members who sought approval for charter schools, only to learn that locals need not apply. Finally, Harris admits that residents seeking to operate charter schools cannot not choose any charter authorizer but are instead restricted to those approved by the state.

In reading Charter School Choice, I often thought, “Let me see where this goes.”So, when I reached chapter 11 and read, “…I am not even arguing that the New Orleans model is best for New Orleans,” Harris had my attention. In this chapter, Harris notes a number of limitations, including the inequity of free markets, the loss of geographic community, and “Jacobs and other reform leaders ma[king] their decisions behind closed doors.” Once I concluded chapter 11, I was satisfied to see that Harris did express concerns, but withholding those concerns until the end of the book made the book read as though it were written by two Harrises, with the first being more clinically distant and the second, realizing that his summations have practical implications and therefore offering clear cautions.

In those summations, Harris acknowledges that in the area of community engagement, the New Orleans reforms were “least successful.” However, he does not consider the intentional exclusion of the community in leading the post-Katrina reforms to be the chief issue that makes New Orleans reforms unsuccessful, period, despite the outcomes of any metrics.

Harris does not understand the impact of generational disenfranchisement on New Orleans’ black community, a point which he brings home in chapter 12 when he again refers to Jacobs and her 2018 “carefully crafted legislation” to “return” (now) charter schools to local board oversight while preventing the board from “impeding the operational autonomy under its jurisdiction” in a number of areas.

Harris just wrote about the need for community engagement, yet he quickly returns to the same white affluence that in 2005 intentionally muted the voices of the black community setting the 2018 legislative parameters affecting the New Orleans predominantly black community and its schools.

Despite his strongly-worded cautions in chapter 11, Harris ends as he begins, with a celebration of Jacobs and the reform community: “In effect, what Jacobs and the reform community have now done is to create an entirely new type of school district, one intended to entrench school-level autonomy, parental choice and performance-based accountability.”

This disappointing end baffles me.

Harris’ book includes much informative detail on education reform in New Orleans, but on the critical importance of community involvement in all aspects of education decision making, Charter School City fails. I consider it the best off-base book that I have read to date.

–Mercedes Schneider


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Biden Admin Wants “to Focus on Assessments” in 2020-21

On February 22, 2021, acting ed secretary Ian Rosenblum (formerly of testing-friendly ed reform org, Education Trust) sent this letter to state school superintendents informing them that standardized testing must happen in the 2020-21 school year “to understand the impact COVID-19 has had on learning and identify what resources and supports students need” and “to address the educational inequities that have been exacerbated by the pandemic.”

Anyone with a smidge of critical thought and modest powers of observation could easily make a short list of the impact that COVID-19 has had on learning. Furthermore, the biggest support public schools have needed for years is adequate (equitable) funding not tied to property taxes and not tied to any federal competition.

Surveying district and state superintendents about what they need in order to provide equitable education opportunities for their students would be a much better use of US Dept of Ed time and money than spending multiple millions on standardized tests.

But, but, but, according to Rosenblum, as a last-thought, tacked-on reason for administering tests during a pandemic, “parents need information on how their children are doing.”

I have been teaching the better part of three decades, and I have yet for any parent to ask me for standardized test scores so that the parent can know how their children are doing. They ask about grades on class assignments; they discuss specific skill areas that are challenging and ask for help with addressing the specific challenges arising from completing classroom assignments; they discuss supports needed when the children or other family members are facing health issues or other crises at home; they ask for assistance addressing behavior issues, but they never ask for standardized test scores out of a need to know how their children are doing.

The ridiculousness of administering standardized tests in 2020-21 is further highlighted by the non-standardizing of the entire process. Need to offer a shortened test? Okay. How about a “remote administration”? Sure, sure. How about a testing window that stays open to the “greatest extent practicable”? No problem.

How is one to weigh the meaning of scores on a test that is designed to be administered at a certain length but is shortened this year? Is the shortened test easier because of lessened testing fatigue? Is it more difficult because having fewer items makes getting one incorrect negatively affect the score more than it would otherwise? Who knows. 

And testing remotely: Can we start with who, exactly, is completing the test? Is there any unauthorized assistance being offered for its completion? Are scores affected by spotty internet connections, or distractions in test completion by other activity happening in the home, for instance? Who knows.

What is the effect of having a very wide testing window on testing outcomes? Could those who complete the test later be at an advantage compared to those who complete it sooner, or vice-versa? Who knows.

But Rosenblum reiterates that the point of offering the nonstandardized-standardized tests “to focus on assessments to provide information to parents, educators, and the public about student performance and to help target resources and supports.”

In other words, the real point is “to focus on assessments.”

We MUST give tests. Otherwise, we might have to rely on the common sense of asking school officials at the state and local levels what, specifically, they need in order to deliver the best K12 education possible in a pandemic. And we certainly cannot do that.

In the opening of his letter, Rosemblum states, “President Biden’s first priority is to safely re-open schools and get students back in classrooms, learning face-to-face from teachers with their fellow students.”

No test needed to achieve this goal. 

A major step involves formulating and activating a federal plan for vaccinating school personnel. Set aside vaccine doses for this specific purpose, and employ the National Guard, if need be, to enact the plan.

No test needed. Just action, President Biden. Just action.

Joe Biden


No time like the present to sharpen your digital research skills!  See my latest book, A Practical Guide to Digital Research: Getting the Facts and Rejecting the Lies, available for purchase on Amazon and via Garn Press!

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On February 18, 2021, Louisiana governor, John Bel Edwards, announced that as of Monday, February 22, 2021, teachers and all other K12 school staff, daycare workers, and others have the green light to receive COVID-19 vaccines:

Meanwhile, the Louisiana Department of Health (LDH) has a message that vaccine shipments have been delayed by inclement winter weather:

Vaccine shipments are delayed.

Due to the continued cold weather that is being experienced statewide in Louisiana, this week’s shipments of COVID vaccines have been slowed and delayed. As we learn more information and have greater understanding of estimated times of arrival, we will share that information here.

And from LDH regarding receiving vaccinations:

Patients must contact a participating location and make an appointment at the location. Do not arrive at a location without an appointment. LDH cannot make appointments for residents; only participating locations can. Appointments do not have to be made to receive the second dose of the vaccine. Second doses are given at the same location a person receives their first dose and the appointment for the second dose will be made during the appointment for the first dose.

To view Louisiana COVID-19 vaccination sites, click here.



No time like the present to sharpen your digital research skills!  See my latest book, A Practical Guide to Digital Research: Getting the Facts and Rejecting the Lies, available for purchase on Amazon and via Garn Press!

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If Schools are That Important, Vaccinate All School Personnel in Short Order

I read in the Centers for Disease Control’s (CDC) latest guidance for schools that it believes schools should be the last to close and the first to reopen in the pandemic.

I read about how important schools are, how school attendance is critical for students’ well being, and how schools are important because schools feed many children.

I read about how vaccinating teachers is a priority, but not vaccinating should not prevent schools from opening, but that schools need to have a ready supply of substitute teachers because teachers will be exposed to COVID.

I read about how according to the latest research, school infection rates are lower than that of the surrounding community, but I did not read just how every adult who works at a school is supposed to dodge COVID exposure just from being an adult who must, to some degree (and to varying degrees), be among other adults who could expose the teacher to COVID. I also did not read about the impact of more contagious variants upon school-site COVID spread.

I read about how schools are supposed to set aside resources to promote social distancing, and cleaning/disinfecting, and for necessary supplies like masks and additional personnel, and adequate ventilation, but I know that public education is an underfunded necessity, a make-do overstretching of what is already overstretched, and that it is beyond the CDC to tell schools and districts exactly where the dollars are to come from to fund its COVID-combatting suggestions.

So. Given where we are with vaccine development, and given that the CDC and others expect schools to remain a cornerstone of stability even in the face of a pandemic, I think it is about time for the Biden administration to make vaccinating all school personnel a priority in short order.

If Biden declares vaccinating all school personnel a priority and supplies the vaccine, the manpower, and other resources to make it happen in all states/territories, then schools will truly be in a position to be stable in this pandemic.

If all school personnel are vaccinated, then being exposed to others who have COVID, whether on site or otherwise, becomes a virtual nonissue. COVID infection will notably decrease among faculty and staff; the complications associated with quarantining school-site adults (including amassing that nonexistent, endless pool of substitutes) are wiped away, and schools are in a markedly strengthened position to be the last to close and first to reopen in this time of COVID.

Let’s listen to Dr. Jonathan Reiner’s suggestion about vaccinating teachers and include all school personnel:

Speaking with CNN’s Erin Burnett on Monday night, Reiner, who is director of the Cardiac Catheterization Lab at George Washington University, presented his solution to what remains as one of the most vexing problems of the pandemic.

Both the Biden White House and CDC Director Rochelle Walensky have faced criticism about the CDC’s just-released official guidance about how to safely reopen schools, which calls for numerous mitigations strategies be put in place and community transmission rates be minimized, but does not mandate teachers be vaccinated before resuming in-person learning. However, the agency did recommend states move teachers into higher priority groups for vaccinations. …

[Reiner:] “Look. The CDC put forth this plan to open schools but it requires schools to open in places where the level of virus is low in the community and most parts of the country don’t have that right now. Almost 89 percent of the districts are still in red zones,” he noted. “It requires big, physical distancing in classrooms, six feet between students and, you know, classrooms are cramped… It’s going to be impossible. Plus, the reassuring data about the low level of transmission in schools was acquired in a non-variant environment and with the emerging variants, there’s no data to reassure teachers.”

“So, let’s treat teachers like first responders,” he suggested as an alternative. “Let’s treat them the way they need to be treated and vaccinate them all. Next week, the FDA is going to review the data for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which is likely to be approved shortly thereafter. Let’s take the first four million doses of that vaccine and dedicate it to America’s teachers. Let’s proactively vaccinate them… Let’s take the vaccine and vaccinate them the way health care workers are vaccinated. You know, bring them all into school over two weeks and vaccinate every teacher in the country. Open schools three weeks later.”

Reiner tweeted his idea in response to CDC director Rochelle Walinsky’s interview referenced above:

And here is Reiner again with his idea to vaccinate all teachers. (Again, I think this idea should include all school personnel.)


No time like the present to sharpen your digital research skills!  See my latest book, A Practical Guide to Digital Research: Getting the Facts and Rejecting the Lies, available for purchase on Amazon and via Garn Press!

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Biden School Reopening Plan Now Has a Survey

In December 2020, President Biden pledged to reopen most schools in his first 100 days in office– dependent upon sufficient resources to protect students and staff during the Coronavirus pandemic.

Months later, in February 2021, the Biden administration is catching flack for a seriously modified version of that pledge– 51 percent of K-8 schools open at least one day per week– which just goes to show that opening schools is complicated. 

Before making promises about opening schools ASAP, it is best to first find out the status of in-person learning nationwide and from that construct an informed plan for moving forward.

To that end, it seems that the US Dept of Ed (USDOE) does (now) have a plan to begin informing its plan, so to speak, which it announced in this February 05, 2021, press release:

ED Announces National Survey to Gather Critical Data on School Reopening

To help safely reopen America’s schools and promote educational equity, the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) at the U.S. Department of Education today announced the largest representative and highest-quality effort yet to gather vital data on the impact of COVID-19 on students and the status of in-person learning.

Currently, there is not enough data to understand the status of school re-opening and how students are learning nationwide. This project, known as the “NAEP 2021 School Survey,” will collect high-quality data from a nationally and state-representative sample.

Today’s announcement follows President Biden’s Jan. 21 Executive Order to ensure “the collection of data necessary to fully understand the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on students and educators, including data on the status of in-person learning.  These data shall be disaggregated by student demographics, including race, ethnicity, disability, English-language-learner status, and free or reduced lunch status or other appropriate indicators of family income.”

IES’s National Center for Education Statistics – the highest-quality education data source in the nation – will oversee the survey collection, which is designed to collect vital data with the least possible burden on schools. Data gathered in the survey will include:

  • The share of the nation’s schools that are open with full-time in-person instruction, open with online and in-person instruction, or fully remote.
  • Enrollment by instructional mode by race/ethnicity, socio-economic status, English learner status, and disability status.
  • Attendance rates by instructional mode by race/ethnicity, socio-economic status, English learner status, disability status, and housing status.
  • Frequency of in-person learning for students.
  • Average number of hours of synchronous instruction for students in remote instruction mode. And,
  • Student groups prioritized by schools for in-person instruction by selected school characteristics. 

“It’s critically important to get a sense of how students are learning,” said James Lynn Woodworth, commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics. “NCES will use this data to both provide the most accurate immediate view about school operating statuses and to better interpret the impact of current school operations on the results of the NAEP assessments scheduled to be conducted in 2022.”

“President Biden is committed to the safe reopening of schools and to addressing the educational disparities and inequities that the pandemic has exposed and exacerbated,” said Ian Rosenblum, acting assistant secretary of the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education. “To do that, we need more information about how students are learning during this pandemic – and we simply don’t have it right now. The administration, educators, parents, and education leaders need meaningful data in order to achieve these critical goals and this survey will give them that.”

The survey will collect data from approximately 3,500 schools that enroll fourth-graders and an equal number of schools that enroll eighth-graders. The public will have access to the highest-quality data about school reopenings for in-person instruction and how students are learning. Results will be collected monthly beginning this month and running through June, and key findings will be reported.

The study will maximize the use of federal dollars by utilizing the existing online data collection systems and infrastructure used for the Nation’s Report Card, also known as NAEP.

Gather some data in those first 100 days; use it to inform a reasonable plan that might actually help schools and districts in their varied contexts, and then move forward. It’s not flashy, but this more measured route spares one from any backpedaled, school-open-one-day-a-week media embarrassment.


No time like the present to sharpen your digital research skills!  See my latest book, A Practical Guide to Digital Research: Getting the Facts and Rejecting the Lies, available for purchase on Amazon and via Garn Press!

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About That JAMA Article on COVID Transmission and Reopening Schools

On January 26, 2021, the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) published this “viewpoint” regarding COVID-19 and in-poerson school attendance, entitled, “Data and Policy to Guide Opening Schools Safely to Limit the Spread of SARS-CoV-2 Infection.”

It seems that in the press, the conclusion of this study has been reduced to the convenient byte, “there has been little evidence that schools have contributed meaningfully to increased community transmission.” Thus, it seems that many are quick to say, “There you have it. Science says COVID-19 is not a problem at schools, so reopen school, period.”

Not so fast.

The JAMA article, which includes links to a number of studies of COVID-19 spread in school compared to community, both in the US and in other countries, also includes the following information about COVID-19 spread:

While these data are encouraging overall, large outbreaks have occurred with apparent transmission in schools. In Israel, within 2 weeks of schools reopening in mid-May 2020, a large high school outbreak occurred when 2 students with epidemiologically unrelated infections attended classes while mildly symptomatic.Testing of more than 99% of at-risk students (n = 1164 eligible; 1161 tested) and staff (152 eligible; 151 tested) identified 153 and 25 cases of SARS-CoV-2 infection, respectively (attack rates of 13.2% and 16.6%). Contributing factors to this outbreak included crowded classrooms with insufficient physical distancing (eg, student density in classrooms exceeded recommended values), exemption from face mask use, and continuous air conditioning that recycled interior air in closed rooms during a heat wave.


Preventing transmission in school settings will require addressing and reducing levels of transmission in the surrounding communities through policies to interrupt transmission (eg, restrictions on indoor dining at restaurants).


In addition, all recommended mitigation measures in schools must continue: requiring universal face mask use, increasing physical distance by dedensifying classrooms and common areas, using hybrid attendance models when needed to limit the total number of contacts and prevent crowding, increasing room air ventilation, and expanding screening testing to rapidly identify and isolate asymptomatic infected individuals.


Staff and students should continue to have options for online education, particularly those at increased risk of severe illness or death if infected with SARS-CoV-2.


…Some school-related activities have increased the risk of SARS-CoV-2 transmission among students and staff. Numerous media reports of COVID-19 outbreaks among US high school athletic teams suggest that contact during both practices and competition, and at social gatherings associated with team sports, increase risk. On January 26, 2021, CDC released a brief report describing the initial investigation of a COVID-19 outbreak associated with a high school wrestling tournament that occurred in December 2020 and included 10 schools and 130 student-athletes, coaches, and referees. … Paradoxically, some schools have used a fully online model for educational delivery while continuing in-person athletic programs. Even though high school athletics are highly valued by many students and parents, indoor practice or competition and school-related social gatherings with limited adherence to physical distancing and other mitigation strategies could jeopardize the safe operation of in-person education. 

So. This JAMA article is not advising a devil-may-care attitude towards the presence of and problems associated with COVID-19 transmission in schools. Protocols need to be in place, including those for social distancing (which is quite a challenge in may school settings) and mask wearing (also a challenge or simply not a requirement in some schools). Notice also that the comparisons tend to be of school transmission to community spread, meaning that what occurs in the community does affect the schools (no surprise here), and that higher community transmission is still reflected in schools even if it is lower than community transmission by comparison.

And, athletics.

In my own classroom, what I have noticed post-holiday season is that an increasing number of my students (who are mostly ages 17 and 18) are contracting COVID and manifesting symptoms as opposed to just being quarantined for close contact and manifesting no symptoms pre-holiday season. 

I wonder the degree to which the increasing manifestation of symptoms among my ill students is related to the presence of COVID-19 variants circulating in the US and that were not present in the fall.

The JAMA article does not address the impact of COVID-19 variants on in-person learning because, it seems, the studies cited are from the fall of 2020, a time when COVID-19 variants were not the focus of concern that they have become by early 2021.

Potential impact of variants aside, the JAMA article does not offer unconditional, blanket support for opening every K12 school nationwide for in-person learning. I can tell you that I would not feel nearly as comfortable in my own classroom if I were not able to arrange my room to keep myself over six feet away from my 17- and 18-year-old students for most of my instruction; if masks were not mandatory in my classroom, and if I did not have two air purifiers in my room.


No time like the present to sharpen your digital research skills!  See my latest book, A Practical Guide to Digital Research: Getting the Facts and Rejecting the Lies, available for purchase on Amazon and via Garn Press!

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Marjorie Taylor Greene Removed from House Ed Committee

On February 04, 2021, the House of Representatives voted 230-199 to remove Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene from her committee assignments (Education and Labor, and Budget).

Eleven Republicans joined 219 Democrats in supporting Greene’s committee removal:

  • Adam Kinzinger (R-IL)
  • Nicole Malliotakis (R-NY)
  • John Katko (R-NY)
  • Fred Upton (R-MI)
  • Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA)
  • Carlos Gimenez (R-FL)
  • Chris Jacobs (R-NY)
  • Young Kim (R-CA)
  • Maria Salazar (R-FL)
  • Chris Smith (R-NJ)
  • Mario Díaz-Balart (R-FL)

Greene has proclaimed the shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School (Parkland, FL) and Sandy Hook Elementary School (Newtown, CT) staged events (more on that here) and has called Parkland survivior, David Hogg, an “idiot” who is “trained like a dog” to advocate for gun control. In January 2020, Greene posted this Youtube video of herself badgering Hogg, who was in Washington, DC, to speak to Congress about gun control:

Marjorie Taylor Greene does not belong on an education committee.

And now, she is not.

Marjorie Taylor Greene


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Meet the New Republican Members of the House Ed and Labor Committee

The big news of late is that Q Anon-espousing, school-shooting-conspiracy-spewing, Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) has been assigned to (of all things) the House Education and Labor Committee for the 117th Congress.

I was curious about the other new members of Ed and Labor, so I thought I’d do some light investigating.

Here are the 11 new Republican members:

  • Mariannette Miller-Meeks (R-IA) is seated for now, but her seat is being contested by her Democratic challenger, Rita Hart. After a recount, Miller-Meeks won by only 6 votes. Hart has appealed to the US House regarding 22 votes that were tossed out; Miller-Meeks has filed with the US House to have Hart’s petition dismissed. Miller-Meeks holds a bachelors in nursing, a masters in education, and an M.D. Her background includes being a director of public health. According to her campaign site, it seems Miller-Meeks did not have a section for education among her platform issues.
  • Former NFL player (1973-82), Burgess Owens (R-UT) was in the news as he acknowledged Biden as president and publicly apologized to Democrats for (as the January 28, 2021, Salt Lake Tribune puts it) “lumping liberals in with Marxists and socialists in the past.” Burgess voted against certifying the 2020 election, saying in January 2021 that he was ony objecting to Pennsylvania’s votes, which would not have affected Biden’s win. In December 2020, Owens stated that there was “no question” Trump won a second term. Owens won the seat formerly held by a high school classmate of mine, Kim Coleman, who Owens beat in the Utahs Repubican primary in June 2020. Owens holds a bachelors degree in biology and chemistry. According to Ballotpedia, Owens supports “market-based solutions for healthcare”; according to Owens’ campaign site, he believes recipients of federal funding “must be held financially accountable for the ability of their students to produce in the marketplace.” Owens also states that students leave higher-ed institutions “unprepared for work requiring critical thinking skills and saddled with massive debt” and “embracing the godless ideologies of Socialism and Marxism.”
  • Bob Good (R-VA) graduated from Liberty University in 1988 (finance) and in 2010 (MBA, leadership). Good worked in finance until he accepted a position as an associate athletic director at Liberty University in 2005. He also served on te Campbell County Board of Supervisors from 2015 to 2019. He does not mention education among the issues on his campaign site, though he does advertise fighting the transgender bathroom mandate in public schools and advocating for homeschooled students to participate in athletics and extracurricular activities.
  • Lisa McClain (R-MI) holds a BA in business from Northwood University. She is the senior vice president of Hantz Group, a Michigan-based, financial services conglomerate. McClain has been with Hantz Group since 1998; prior to that (1987-1997), she was with American Express. McClain does not mention education as an issue on her campaign site.
  • And then there’s Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA). Greene’s Georgia district includes the city of Rome, Georgia, where Greene moved in order to run for office (and where I taught for five years, from 1993 to 1998). Greene offers no position on education on her campaign website. On her House web page, under the heading, “education,” all that is there is the message, “For more information concerning work and views related to Education, please contact our office“– which is the default for no educatin platform posted. Even so, there is no real need to contact Greene’s office since her bizarre, offensive, dangerous views have been well publicized by Greene herself and are concisely summarized in this January 29, 2021, New York Times article and this January 28, 2021, Huffington Post piece, and this January 27, 2021, CNN post. Greene has called school shootings as staged and is on video harassing Parkland, Florida, school shooting survivor, David Hogg. Survivors of those slain in the Sandy Hook and Parkland school shootings are among those pressing for Greene’s removal from the House Ed committee.
  • Licensed pharmacist and Tennesse native, Diana Harshbarger (R-TN) offers the following regarding her education platform: “As the first person in my immediate family to graduate from high school and college, I understand how a high-quality education can lead to greater financial security and success. I also understand that each student has unique learning needs and that there are many potential pathways to success, including apprenticeships, trade and technical schools, and traditional higher education options. Students and parents should be empowered with the freedom to choose the best education options to prepare them for future success in our East Tennessee economy. Further, I understand that local leaders know what’s best for their communities, and believe that education decisions should be made at the state and local level.” The language “freedom to choose” likely bespeaks support for school vouchers. Harshbarger’s husband, Robert, served a four-year prison sentence for charges of misbranding, mail fraud, and health care fraud while operating his company, American Inhalation Medication Specialists. According to Johnson City, TN, news outlet,, Harshbarger stated she had nothing to do with the company though corporation filings show her as secretary and then president while her husband was in prison. In November 2020, Harshbarger was elected to the House by a landslide.
  • Mary Miller (R-IL), who quoted Hitler the day before the January 06, 2020, attack on the US Capitol (and has since apologized), and who voted against certification of electoral votes in Arizona and Pennsylvania, offered no position statement on education on her campaign website. Miller holds a bachelors degree in business management and “completed gradute coursework in education.” Her campaign bio states that she holds an Illinois teaching certificate but offers no indication that she has ever taught. Her site states that she and her husband have run a farm for forty years, and Miller identifies herself as follows: “Mary Miller is a wife, a mother, a grandmother, a local farmer, and a business manager.”
  • Victoria Sparz (R-IN): Sparz was born in Ukraine and holds a bachelors in international economics and an MBA, both from the National University of Economics (Ukraine). Her husband is an Indiana native; Sparz has lived in Indiana for the past 20 years. As for her professional history, Sparz offers this on her campaign website: “Victoria has worked in the Big 4 public accounting firms for Fortune 500 companies, as an adjunct faculty at Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business and served as CFO at the Indiana Attorney General’s Office. She also started and currently owns several businesses, including financial consulting, farming and real estate.” Sparz also identifies herself as “a founding member of Hamilton County Tea Party.” Unlike most others featured in this post, Sparz does offer a position on education on her campaign website: “As a mother and educator, I understand that knowledge is an ultimate equalizer and quality education for our children has always been my top priority. Our post-secondary education has a lot of work to do. Above all, we need to align the cost of education with the earning potential of a career in that field and provide more workforce development opportunities. We must give flexibility to the states to improve K-12 education, reform higher education financing to improve accountability of colleges and better prepare our students to the future workforce demands.” 
  • Scott Fitzgerald (R-WI): According to his campaign website, Fitzgerald “earned his Bachelor of Science degree (journalism) from the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh in 1985. He purchased and ran the Dodge County Independent News in Juneau, WI, in 1990 and sold it in 1996 to the Watertown Daily Times where he remained as an associate publisher for a number of years. Fitzgerald joined the US Army Reserve in 1981 and served his country for 27 years, rising to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.” He also served in the Wisconsin state senate from 1995-2020. During his time in the Wisconsin senate, in 2019, Fitzgerald’s committee assignments included employment relations. Fitzgerald’s campaign site for US House includes no statement about his positions related to education.
  • Madison Cawthorn (R-NC):  Cawthorn is another House Republican who voted against certifying the electoral votes of Arizona and Pennsylvania and who later publicly accepted that Biden is president. An editorial in the January 28, 2021, Charlotte Observer includes this statement by Cawthorn at the Capitol rally on January 6th: “The Democrats, with all the fraud they have done in this election, the Republicans, hiding and not fighting, they are trying to silence your voice.” Cawthorn has received negative media attention for trying to shape his bio to make him seem like he accomplished more than he did. For example, Cawthorn’s Congressional bio states, “[Cawthorn] was also nominated to the U.S. Naval Academy by Rep. Mark Meadows in 2014. Madison’s plans to serve in the U.S. military were derailed that year after he nearly died in a tragic automobile accident that left him partially paralyzed and in a wheelchair.” However, according to ABC News 13, in a 2017 deposition, Cawthorn admitted that he knew he had been rejected for admission prior to his accident. Moreover, a blistering, January 22, 2021, article in the Nation reveals other sleights of truth on Cawthorn’s part, including his stating that he was training for the Paralympics, though no one associated with Paralympics supports Cawthorn’s story, and some have outright exposed the lie. As for Cawthorn’s being “CEO of a small investment company,” well, the company is really small– as the Nantion reports, it includes only Cawthorn, was formed in August 2019, and and reported no income (search SPQR Holdings here.) What Cawthorn has actually done, according to the September 13, 2020, 9th Street Journal, is this: “[Cawthorn] spent one semester at Patrick Henry College in Purcellville, Virginia before dropping out. He worked at a Chick-fil-A restaurant and as a staff assistant to then-U.S. Rep. Meadows.” His House website is a bit muddled: On his “issues” page, under the heading “healthcare,” is a statement to click to see Cawthorn’s position on education. The link then takes one to a narrative about the importance of choice in healthcare.
  • Michelle Steel (R-CA): Steel emigrated to America from South Korea as a child. She currently serves as chair of the Orange County Board of Supervisors. Her campaign site includes no education platform or position, and Ballotpedia is rather thin on information about Steel. However, in February 2016, her board “declared” school choice week, and Steel Tweeted about school choice on January 28, 2021. Her Orange County (CA) bio states that she is “a successful businesswoman” (no additional details offered) and “holds a degree in Business from Pepperdine University, an Executive MBA from the University of Southern California.” In this February 25, 2020, California Globe interview, Steel talks about working to help her mother run a men’s clothing store while Steel was in college at Pepperdine. Her mother then closed the clothing store and opened a sandwich shop, which led to Steel’s desire to run for public office: 

    “‘My mother got hit by the BOE tax board, and ended up paying taxes she did not owe,’ Steel explained. ‘As I watched my single working mother struggle to fight an unwarranted tax bill from the California State Board of Equalization,’ Steel said she felt helpless to do anything. ‘As an immigrant who owned a small business, my mother got harassed because she lacked the resources she needed to appeal the tax. After watching my own mother struggle, I knew I needed to help those who couldn’t help themselves, so I decided to run for public office.’

    “Steel said her goal in running for Board of Equalization was to help all small business owners. ‘I was a housewife running against a prominent Senator and won.’ Once inside the BOE as a board member, Michelle Steel said the system was so corrupt that companies which asked for refunds on a deposit tax, suddenly found themselves being audited by the BOE. Steel investigated and ended up making sure $400 million was returned to California taxpaying companies. ‘I stopped a lot of taxes! I did whatever I could,’ she said.

    “Following two terms of tax fighting on the BOE, Michelle Steel ran for Orange County Supervisor in 2015 and won.” 

In sum, many of the Republican members of the House Education and Labor Committee have professional experience that leans toward the labor side and not the education side. Some, like Michelle Steel, have entered politics with the noble goal of serving the public. However, most have no publicized positions regarding education. Cawthorn has limited education and professional experience, period, and Greene views school tragedies as staged events.

So this is where we are.

(POSTSCRIPT: I intended to also profile the new members on the Democratic side, but it has taken me about eight hours to write this post, and I need to rest. To see the entire membership of the House Ed and Labor Committee for the 117th Congress, click here.)


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La. Virtual School’s Whopper Course Sizes, with a Side of Edgenuity

At the outset of the tumultuous, 2020-21 pandemic school year, I was asked if I preferred to teach at my district’s virtual school rather than return to the classrrom in person.

I declined, for two reasons. First of all, I did not want to put myself in a position in which I could be assigned hundreds of students because virtual school has no physical space restraints to stymie a ridiculous overload. And second, I did not want to risk losing my position (including my physical classroom and my particular course responsibilities) at my current school.

However, even though I declined, when I was asked if I would like to teach virtual school, I assumed the request entailed actually teaching— meeting students virtually for class at a set time, and assigning my own class assignments via computer. It seems that such an expectation is also in line with guidance from the Louisiana Department of Education. Some key requirements:

  • Teacher-led instruction with student-teacher interaction (e.g. live teaching, pre-recorded lesson, office hours, individual instruction, small group instruction) is a regular component of student instruction.
  • Teachers regularly provide and set clear expectations for opportunities involving student-to-student interaction in a virtual setting (e.g., discussion boards, responding to peer assignments, live chats, etc.)
  • Students have daily communication with a school staff member regarding academics (e.g., a check-in phone call, teacher-led instruction, email exchange, teacher feedback on student work, small breakout groups, chat, messaging applications such as Remind, etc.)
  • Teachers have opportunities to collaborate to plan virtual instruction and adapt and annotate materials for the virtual classroom.

What I now realize is that the teachers who are working at my district’s virtual school are not teaching– they are supervising “caseloads” of students who are expected to complete a canned curriculum, Edgenuity, mostly “independently.” From the St. Tammany Virtual School FAQ:

How are teachers involved?
Louisiana certified teachers, counselors, and administrators provide online support.

How will teachers monitor students?
Teachers will monitor students through three ways: attendance (4 hours of online work per day), progress towards weekly goals, and academic proficiency.

What learning platform will be used?
Edgenuity, developed in partnership with Accelerate Education, is the platform for grades K-5. This is where the courses are located and where parents and students can also locate due dates and read class announcements. Edgenuity is the platform for grades 6-12. This is where the courses are located and where parents and students can also locate due dates and read class announcements.

Will my child’s teacher provide real-time instruction through video?
Instruction through the STPPS Virtual School is primarily through an online learning platform that allows students to work independently. Each school day, teachers will be available for tutoring and assistance. Teachers will also monitor each student’s progress, take attendance, and grade assignments as needed.

And from the St. Tammany Virtual School Handbook:

Due to the nature of virtual instruction, STPPS Virtual students are not confined to attend school or access their course work at a specific time of the day.

• Students must work on the online courses daily.
• A minimum of 20 hours each week should be spent actively working for attendance purposes.
• If the student does not meet the minimum numbers of hours, they will be marked as absent.
• If the student is absent for any reason, parents must ensure that the child completes make-up assignments for all absences from their teachers upon return to their online academic coursework.

Teachers are called teachers, but in virtual school, teachers apparently don’t teach. Instead, they manage student caseloads.

“Caseload” is the word that associate superintendent Pete Jabbia (who was the interim superintendent until his son Frank was hired as the new superintendent) used in this January 14, 2021, meeting when discussing maximum class sizes for the district. Pete Jabbia’s class size report begins at 11:37 of this meeting video: and is transcribed as follows:

Good evening, board members, members of the audience. Each year, I do a report to the board on class size. Just as a reminder, there are some mazimum class sizes provided by the state, that says that kindergarten thru third grade, no more than 24, and in grades four thru twelve, no more than 33.

I am happy to report that we are not seeing any of those numbers; in fact, we are a lot less. I also want to let the board know and members of the public that when we do this teacher-pupil ratio, it is a true ratio, a true class size, of the classroom teacher. It does not include librarians, guidance counselors, and itinerant teachers of any type. So, we’re talking about just the teachers of record in those schools. These are class sizes. The report was posted on Board Docs for you.

As you can see, this was not a typical year. With the COVID year, our numbers are a lot less than what they normally are, with class size ranging in kindergarten at 15.7 up to our sixth thru twelfth ratio of 18.4. In prior years, those numbers hover around 17, 18, 19, in grades K thru 3. They usually range anywhere from 20 ro 25 in grades 6 thru 12 and in 4th and 5th, also. So, that’s the report. Again, if you have any questions, I’ll certainly be happy to try to answer those.

At this point, board member James Braud asks about whether 24 is the maximum for K thru 3 or an average. Pete Jabbia reiterates 24 is the maximum for K thru 3, and 33 is the maximum for four thru twelve. He adds, “We have no one exceeding the maximum.”

Then, another board member, Ronald Bettencourt, asks if the class ratios include enrollment at the virtual school:

Mr. Jabbia, what about the virtual school?

Pete Jabbia’s response:

I don’t have the… that’s not class size. That’s more of a caseload. I don’t have those numbers, Mr. Bettencourt. I’m sorry. We should be in compliance, I think, though, with all the state regulations with the virtual school and caseload. I don’t have those, I just did the actual, since ther’s no classes for virtual school, it’s basically how many students that you have, and not a particular class, so I only took the typical, brick-and-mortar schools K thru 12.

As for the enrollment counts that Pete Jabbia did not have on hand: In October 2020, public education advocate and retired teacher Lee Barrios submitted a public records request to St. Tammany Schools for those counts. You can find them here.

By Jabbia’s logic, since students in St. Tammany’s Virtual School never have to assemble (even online) as a class, as far as that teacher caseload goes, student load is irrelevant. The sky is the limit. 

Indeed, unlimited enrollment is particulary obvious in the virtual high school numbers.

First-semester biology, 282 students; first-semester environmental science, 461 students– both belonging to the same teacher of record (who has an additional 91 students in two other classes).


First-semester US History, 306 students; first-semester World History, 129 students, AP US History, 48 students– all assigned to one teacher.

First-semester English I, 381 students; first-semester English I Honors, 55 students– both courses, one teacher.

First-semester Algebra I, 394 students assigned to one teacher, who also has another 125 students in 3 additional courses.

First-semester Government, 567 students. One teacher.

First-semester English II, 299 students; first-semester English II Honors, 68 students– same teacher.

Alg II, 220 students; Spanish II, 208 students; Spanish I, 193 students; Computer Science, 93 students; Pre-calculus, 81 students; Algebra III, 72 students; Algebra II Honors, 57 students; Pre-calculus Honors, 29 students; Spanish III, 3 students; Business Math, 49 students. All. Overseen. By. One. Teacher.

How thin can you spread your peanut butter and still call it a sandwich?

When a single teacher is responsible for tutoring and regularly communicating with 400, 500, 600, 700 students on a pre-fab curriculum that students are expected to primarily complete independently, you tell me how much quality education is transpiring here.

As for whether virtual school students should be included in class counts: Lee Barrios also asked that specific question of the state. You can read the state’s response in this letter, dated January 19, 2021. Below is the text:

Dear Ms. Barrios,

On January 15, 2021, the Louisiana Department of Education received your email seeking information pursuant to the Public Records Act of Louisiana, R. S. 44:1 et seq. and containing the following request:

As per Louisiana Public Records Statute, please provide:

Information, documentation, or link to teacher:pupil ratio and/or caseload size policies for virtual classes run by loacl traditional school districts. I am looking for policy that specifies what the maximum number of students a teacher can supervise as virtual classes. Bulletin 741 does not seem to address this.

In response to that request, the Department provides the attaced file titled “Bulletin 741.” The teacher:pupil classroom ratios, both in-person or virtual, are subject to the policy outlined in the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) Bulletin 741 Section 913 titled Class Size and Ratio. As such, the Department is not in possession of any additional responsive record.

Please telephone or write if you have any questions.



Lindsey Dupree

Tel: (225) 342-3572


Below is the entire Section 913 referenced above:

§913. Class Size and Ratios

A. The maximum enrollment in a class or section in grades K-3 shall be 26 students and in grades 4-12, 33 students, except in certain activity types of classes in which the teaching approach and the materials and equipment are appropriate for large groups.
B. No teachers at the secondary level shall instruct more than 750 student hours per week, except those who teach the activity classes.
1. When a number of staff members are involved in a cooperative teaching project, the amount of each person’s involved time may be counted in computing the individual teacher’s load.
C. The maximum class size for health and physical education in grades K-8 and in physical education I and II shall be 40. No class may be combined with physical education I or II if the total number of students taught is more than 40.
D. The system-wide, student classroom teacher ratio in grades K-3 shall be a maximum of 20 students to one classroom teacher.
1. An LEA may request a waiver of this requirement from the state superintendent of education provided that the teacher has demonstrated effectiveness as defined by BESE in Bulletin 130—Regulations for the Evaluation and Assessment of School Personnel.

Notice that the language above is not just for maximum class size, but also for maximum section size. The virtual school might not be organized into classes per se, but it is organized into sections by course designation.

I’d like to see Pete Jabbia ask the state for a waiver to allow a single virtual teacher to be responsible for several hundred students in a single section, and I’d like to read the state’s response.

One final word, about Edgenuity:

Edgenuity uses grading algorithms that can be gamed. This means that a student can achieve high marks without learning any content. For more on this issue see this September 02, 2021, The Verge article, which begins with the situation of University of California professor Dana Simmons’ son, Lazare, and references Simmons’ tweets below.



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