Schools that Throw Teachers Under the School Bus

schoolbus1685625You assume that when you’re teaching in a foreign country, your school will take some responsibility for your well-being. We believe most schools will. But, history shows some schools will throw you under the school bus for the “good of the organization.” As despicable as it sounds, there are International Schools and Directors who will sacrifice your well-being to placate wealthy parents and protect the school image they’ve worked so hard to create.

Recently, at Qatar Academy, Qatar, Dorje Gurung (science teacher) was misquoted by a group of twelve-year olds. Based on Dorje’s account of the incident, it appears the school, headed by Eric Sands, threw him under the school bus when he was accused of insulting Islam and thereafter jailed for ten days.

From the Dorje Gurung Blog:
  The (third) meeting with the Director (Eric Sands) was held on Sunday, April 21. Both the Director and the Principal (Mike Hitchman) were there. The Director started the meeting by asking me if I had anything to say. I realized then that whatever I said would make very little difference to the decision he appeared to have already made. So I said, “No.” The Director told me I was dismissed. Furthermore, he told me, I would lose out on five-month equivalent of salary-cum-benefits. I was a little disappointed, not for being dismissed, but for losing the money. I asked if he could do anything about the monies, adding how I had been counting on them. He couldn’t.

Dorje’s story is not unique. On June 13, 2007, the middle school principal at Al-Bayan Bilingual School, Kuwait (under the direction of Dr. Brian McCauly) was on her way home to spend the summer months with family. At airport immigration, however, Kuwaiti officials detained her, enforcing a travel ban placed on her by the wealthy parent of a student. By court order she had been banned from leaving the country. The powerful Kuwaiti man who had initiated the travel ban later threatened he would “destroy” her, all because she had sent his son to in-school suspension for fighting on campus. To this parent, an in-school suspension and Guantanamo Bay were one and the same. On her own in Kuwait with no one to turn to, she contacted ISR’s Dr. Spilchuk who, with the full support of ISR, came to her aid and helped her secure safe passage out of Kuwait.

You might be tempted to say, These incidents are just isolated cases. The truth is they are not! A teacher who worked in Guatemala shared the following story with ISR:

  I was teaching in Guatemala when an unfortunate incident took place. I had turned my back to write on the white-board when a middle school boy took advantage of the moment to crawl under the table with scissors in hand, stabbing another student in the leg. I was later called into the office to meet with the director and the boy’s dad (a very prominent military man and big-wig). The first question out of the director’s mouth was, “What is it about you that incites children in your class to act this way?” Needless to say this conversation was the beginning of the end for me at this school.

A teacher who worked in Thailand relates a similar story of betrayal by his School Director:

I was told that I would “take the fall” if anything came of a particular incident…. I had pointed my finger at a 3rd grade boy, saying in a stern voice to stop what he was doing (tapping & poking another student). The child began to cry. When the classroom teacher came to pick up her class, she noticed the boy’s red eyes and asked me, “What has he been up to now!?”
  This 3rd grade teacher reported that I had traumatized the child. I requested a Korean translator (The school had a large Korean student body) so the child could relate exactly what had happened. The director refused the request saying he wanted to keep this “hush, hush” from the Korean community. He also told the me that if anything came of it, I would be fired.
  As it turned out, the boy related the entire event to his mother who came to school to set the record straight about this misunderstanding. The director later told me I was lucky to have kept my job.

It appears we have the makings of a problem when you put wealthy parents with clout together with a school Director bent on keeping them happy at any cost to their faculty. That’s not to say all schools and Directors will sacrifice teachers for the “good” of the organization. Many will stand up for you when you’re in the right, and ease the blow when you’re in the wrong. They run the place like an institution of learning and not a country club for spoiled children. As we see it, a PhD does not make a leader–Leading is about character, vision and integrity, respect and a sense of right and wrong. These things can’t be taught in a course. Some people have it. Others not so much.

When you go overseas to teach you’re immersing yourself in a culture with rules, customs, procedures, expectations and a legal system beyond the scope of your immediate understanding. It’s easy to lull yourself into thinking you’re safe and sound when you’re not. It’s important to know who you are working for and if you can count on them. ISR hosts many reviews from teachers that say their Director/Principal always sides with the parents and the kids. We encourage you to visit the ISR Schools That Throw Teachers Under the School Bus BLOG and share your experiences with colleagues. If you are comfortable in naming the School and Director feel free to do so. The two teachers in our example of Guatemala and Thailand asked their names and the school names to be removed.

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35 Responses to Schools that Throw Teachers Under the School Bus

  1. annonymous says:

    Worldwide there is a sense that the future of students depends on students getting into a great college lest they have “no future.” I read by Malcolm Gladwell his discussion that it is often better ( based on longitudinal studies of top students who go to either an Ivy league or instead a lower but nonetheless high level university ) to be a big fish in a small pond than a small fish in a big pond. That being said, parents especially rich parents who are the ones pulling strings both internationally in the Private schools or tribal societies and in the U.S in public schools, will say anything with what they perceive to be their childs’ future on the line. So if a teacher is tough on students in any way they are open to crazy criticism. I have been “thrown under the bus” in China and in the United States. In the US, our school union compiled an anonymous survey about our new principal, it was amazingly scathing in its’ findings about the new principal, but she was kept – Marcie Plummer and Xavier Rodriguez. 6 of 35 teachers left. Grades went up however, ( grade pressures on teachers) discipline referrals dropped ( teachers were not allowed to send discipline referrals to the office! ) and the school district kept her. To get rid of me they pulled a ploy, they “encouraged” testimony from a female student that I “touched her” when taking a cell phone in class in front of the whole class. Police Investigated. 37 students questioned, several told me ” I was interviewed I told him nothing happened” the police report went to the administration, the administration sent a report to DA office, with OUT any of the testimony, so I was suspended pending investigation, any administration can do such things to get rid of teachers who don’t succumb to their statistical sleights of hand and NCLB encourages it, many administrators were teachers the majority of their career, they can finish for 3-5 years as an administrator and get a 30 year retirement based on their administrators salary – double a teachers’ and the teachers all pay for it in the retirement plan. People follow economic incentives and the incentive in education are all stacked against teachers!

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  2. Anonymous says:

    It is interesting to see the name Mike Hitchman in the lead story of this blog. I worked for Mike a few years back, and he was known as ‘Hatchetman’ because of his willingness to do the dirty work of firing teachers – with or without cause or due process. He often befriended the teachers and even had them over for dinner before he did the deed. Then, when their guard was down and their backs turned, in went the knife. His methods – and his character – are particularly nasty. He seemed to think that this was the quickest route to becoming a high-paid school director. It seems that so far he has failed to find promotion.

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  3. dorjegurung says:

    While some of us are forced to work abroad due to the economic conditions at home, being Nepalese, I didn’t have much of a choice but to teach abroad. International schools in Nepal consider Nepalese passport holders, regardless of education and experience, local hires and as such pay a small fraction of what they pay international teachers. (Local hires don’t get any benefits either.) The last time I checked, which was several years ago, I found out I would have been paid about US$300/month while the salary for international hires was about US$3000/month.

    If you are interested in first hand accounts of my ordeal in Qatar, here’s a link to the page containing links to all the posts about the incident:

    http://www.dorjegurung.com/blog/category/qatar/qatar-academy/

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  4. Anonymous says:

    Teaching became impossible for me at Sanaa International School (QSI) when it became obvious that the students were the ones calling the shots. My husband and I were pressured to give students grades they had not earned, overlook cheating and accept rampant absenteeism and late assignments. My students (mostly seniors in high level or AP classes) constantly complained that the work was too hard or that there was too much homework. A small group of international students excelled and learned in spite of the distraction caused by the mutinous element who were led by three grandsons of the former president. The Director and Director of Instruction had a much greater interest in keeping powerful local families happy. They certainly were not interested in knowing what I truly was or was not doing in the classroom but sided completely with the local students. Not once did the Director of Instruction observe my class or ask to see lesson or unit plans. I was ordered to appear at a meeting with student representatives and a mediator which was basically a kangaroo court. The “representatives”did not include any of the students who had continued to apply themselves in spite of the turmoil. A number of them submitted notes to the mediator which were disregarded. The students were given freedom to comment as they wished but my first comment to the students was quashed. I asked one of the students if he felt he had been giving his best effort and he replied, “We’re not here to discuss that.” I had brought a witness to the meeting and we both left stunned.
    My husband and I approached the administrators the following day and asked frankly if we had their support, which they could only answer reluctantly. It was obvious where their loyalties were. When challenged, the director lost his temper and started screaming.
    We had reached the end of our ropes. I was suffering from anxiety related symptoms. The security situation was bad and the admin was not forthcoming with info concerning our safety. we couldn’t trust them to have our backs in any situation it seemed. professionally they resented any new ideas or input from the staff – in fact, it was received with hostility. We resigned. When we tried to start our car to drive home at the end of the day, we found that it had been disabled. our passports were held almost until the minute we had to leave for the airport. our funds were held and we were charged rent for the rest of the year -we had to borrow money from a colleague to settle our account. It was comforting that we had the support of the teaching staff and the local support staff who were to a person embarrassed and disgusted by the actions of the admin. But still it was devastating to leave a home in that way. One of my colleagues acknowledged, “You paid a high price for your integrity.”
    Our letters to the heads of QSI regarding our experience went unanswered. Of course. Much easier to throw a couple of teachers under the bus than to cause trouble with the rich and influencial. Or your longtime friend and QSI mainstay no matter how badly he’s behaving.

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  5. Pester Meat says:

    Thanks Aimese🙂

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  6. Anonymous says:

    I too was fired from a school in Qatar when a child said I had kicked him in the face! An impossible feat as not only was I the Headteacher and surrounded by staff, I could never have lifted my leg that high and nor would I want to but there were cameras everywhere. This did nothing to help me or my case as the pathetic Principal and extremely hostile parent wanted me out. So they fired me. It happens ALL the time to anyone!
    Read the reviews on ISR, they’re real and written by real teachers with real experiences.
    Good luck!

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  7. I worked at a school in Tripoli. It was the first year of the school and all international teachers. We tried very hard to make the school a good one following the British curriculum. That being said, it was not an international school. There are no true international schools in Libya right now, all have closed due to the revolution. Our school was all well-off Libyan kids.
    Benghazi is about 8 hours from Tripoli. I worked with people who were friends with teachers in Benghazi. Benghazi is far more dangerous than Tripoli. You can manage, but there really isn’t much to do in either city. There are safety issues, a complete lack of any international culture (very few foreigners or expats), and again SAFETY issues.
    One year was enough for me.

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  8. Pester Meat says:

    How is International School of Benghazi Libya? A friend has just been offered a post there. How is life in Libya in general?

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  9. Robert says:

    Excellent forum….. Wow if you guys have experienced this type of grief, i would hate to imagine how an African American teacher like myself would cope with teaching in Kuwait. I am suppose to be heading there at the end of the month to teach at an International school. I have also been offered a position in Riyadh Saudi…… what are teachers experience of been thrown under the bus by administrators in Saudi school? Keep strong

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    • Anonymous says:

      In Saudi, they will do the same thing as in Kuwait. It’s the same mentality.

      Like

    • JM says:

      In Kuwait you have two months probation period. As an American you will be welcomed, the term African American doesn’t really work down here, they see all Americans as one. There are some schools here that really protect the interest of their teacher, i know at least three of them. If your school is one of them, then Kuwait will be a wonderful place for you to work as a teacher,

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    • JedTeach says:

      I can’t vouch for Kuwait but I work in Saudi and disagree with Anon, that was a generalization. Riyadh is the seat of the government and not female friendly. I’ve been there and even going to a restaurant the women were herded in their own sections. I do know people that work there and are happy but all are Muslim. My advice to you would be to use social media. It is huge here in Saudi. Google the school and any names you have for admin/directors/the owner of the school. People are not afraid to express their opinions. Social media will give you a much bigger picture on a personal level. It is quite easy to find reviews from parents and employees. SaudiLife site can help also.

      I’m sure you will come into problems with parents if you work in a school that caters to the rich. Like I said they all have their say and usually don’t mind voicing it. Learn the culture of the area. Some places you will be put on a compound for foreigners and your only life outside of school is within the compound to more open living in places such as Jeddah. Do your research!!

      The government and Ministry of Education has implemented a major overhaul that started last academic year. You are being asked to come due to the percentage of staff that must be under sponsorship. Others must be Saudi, married to Saudi’s or under a work permit. This has become an expensive and drawn out issue in the schools. You can read all about it in the Saudi newspapers online. The only true way to decide on a position is after an extensive search on all aspects of the school and the community you are planning to become a part of.

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  10. Anonymous says:

    Thank you for bringing this topic to the forefront. Having worked with Eric Sands at the International School of Belgrade (ISB) for several years, I can say that this is an accurate depiction of his overall behavior as a director. He sat back and allowed his Lower School Principal (Tim Moynihan) throw teacher after teacher under the bus when it came to parents. In addition to that, Eric Sands also ignored (even when brought to his attention) Tim Moynihan’s frequent unfounded threatening and bullying of educators (mostly women). Prior to working at ISB, Tim Moynihan found himself the center of media attention in the US (Seattle area) because of his negative behaviors toward educators. Obviously he has found an outlet (international schools) where he can still get away with this behavior. It only leaves the question of how many other educational leaders that have found themselves in hot water in their home country have followed suit…

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  11. Anonymous says:

    Do your research first, read what people say about the school and make it harder for unsupportive school management to get staff by not applying and not working in those schools that put teachers at risk.

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  12. Anonymous says:

    I haven’t experienced it a lot but they are out there. There are directors who feel so lucky to have their high paying posts that they shut down any sensible educational discussion that puts their experience or educational philosophy into question in anyway and run the schools more like military operations (with strategic meetings and ranking built into the school structure). They will certainly fire someone rather than encourage intellectual educational debate and inquiry if they feel threatened, which they often do.

    But in all my career, I have only experienced such educational leaders once. I still think they are for the most part far and wide. What this experience taught me was to ask better questions during the interview and to be as open as possible about my own teaching philosophies and how they interweave into every aspect of my life. I don’t just teach my students to challenge immorality, ethical failings and misguided authority, I model that as well.

    I’ve learned to ask about the experience of the leaders, and their feelings on being challenged when the experts they have hired to run the educational programmes disagree with them. I ask them about their managerial philosophy and examples of how they implemment that. I ask them to describe themselves as educators and as leaders. I used to be shy at interviews, but as I get more experience I want to know who I’m going to be working for so I never hear the words “You’re just middle management” or “You shouldn’t be encouraging junior employees to speak their mind..” or “you’re trying to start a revolution…” (Of course I am. I’m a teacher…that’s sort of the whole point of education, isn’t?)

    So be aware that there are schools where directors are protecting their position, fiercely, sometimes to a degree that disallows any introspection or discussion, sometimes to the degree that sycophancy is confused for loyalty and honest feedback, sincere concerns and discussion of open critical thinking is mistaken for efforts at usurping their power. Understand that at a lot of the private schools the salary for ex-pat senior management is so over-inflated that they will do anything to hold onto it, that avarice and paranoia can overrule all sense of right and wrong in even the most charismatic of leaders, and knowing certain things upfront can help you to make better choices about where you want to spend the next few years.

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    • snorks says:

      Beautifully said, Anonymous, only if TeachingbygoofyAccent would heed your words.

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      • I don’t understand exactly why you said unless you think you know me. I will admit to my naivete in choosing schools the first time around, and the fact that I learned a great deal about how to match myself as a result of that experience. That being said, your comment about me was uncalled for. All of us have had different experiences, and I consider mine to be mine alone. Another person might feel differently, and I would respect that.

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    • Anonymous says:

      So many of the directors I have worked for seem to move effortlessly from one position to the next, trashing schools and the teachers’ careers as they go. I have always done my homework when considering employment overseas, but on three occasions I was hired by one director only to find that a new director was in charge when I arrived.

      My first position was in the Middle East, and under the new director the school had 100% turnover of foreign staff for four years running. He was simply unbearable to work for. His style of management was to call people into his office – individually or in groups – simply to berate them and talk over any suggestions or differences of opinion.

      The International School of Lusaka was billed as ‘The most prestigious school in Sub-Saharan Africa’. Unfortunately, the glory days were over by the time I arrived. The school had over a thousand students five years before I arrived, and by the year after we left the number was around 200. In one year 21 teachers were sent home after waiting in Zimbabwe for three months for visas that never materialized. In just over two years the school went through three complete changes of board membership and five superintendents. It is disappointing that ISL is still allowed to recruit – and we still hear stories of different directors playing with the lives and livelihood of trusting teachers who have gone overseas for the thrill of living abroad. I would have happily lived in Zambia for the rest of my life if the school had been run properly.

      In Turkey I worked for ACI in Izmir, another school that had a sterling reputation and great potential, and it is located in a great city. Again, the school changed senior management yearly, so there was never any continuity. Again, contracts and ethical practices were never honored. By the end of my first year, one third of the teachers I had been hired with were sent packing for one reason or another. Some quit teaching altogether out of disgust. One teacher was fired at the end of orientation just because the staff liaison didn’t like him – they didn’t even wait to see if he was a good teacher or not. (To be fair, he was a difficult character.)

      My final overseas posting was in another school in the Middle East. My British HOD didn’t like Americans – the first thing he did when he met me was to question the veracity of my resume. With the help of the director and his loyal lap dog of a principal I was summarily fired on the eve of the winter holidays without any due process or remuneration.

      I have lived overseas for many years even before I started teaching, and with the exception of Kuwait, I have thoroughly enjoyed all of the countries I have lived in. At the end of the day, I would not give up my experiences living abroad. Even Kuwait taught me something valuable. It is unfortunate that overpaid school directors so often seem to feel that their job is to put teachers under such pressure that the life and energy of living overseas is sapped out of them.

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  13. Thames Pirate says:

    It can also be European schools that throw teachers under the bus. While they may not have the legal troubles they would in other places, there are games such as forcing teachers to change scores or give passing scores for assignments not turned in. There are schools which do not honor contracts because parents don’t like the teachers. These more subtle forms of leaving teachers to fend for themselves can be just as insidious and demoralizing, though perhaps not as far-reaching or potentially dangerous.

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  14. Anonymous says:

    Does any one have experience in teaching in Afghanistan?

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  15. I was nearly fired several times from my job in Lebanon for teaching in ways the principal didn’t understand. He was a yes-man who knew nothing about pedagogy or academics. I’m out of there and got a great opportunity to work in the Netherlands. I think that speaks volumes about the problems I was having at that school.

    Like

  16. anonymous says:

    Teaching internationally can be very difficult. In many countries you have no rights at all and will find yourself at the mercy of whomever happens to have more political clout or wealth than yourself. In many countries where I have worked the old adage, “Might makes right” is the law of the land. I try to keep a low profile and avoid all controversy both professionally and in my personal life. In countries where I have worked even my personal life is reviewed and examined for the slightest possibility that I am not following their cultural norms. I do not express my opinions on any topic and do a lot of listening.

    Perhaps someday the economy in my home country will improve and I can teach at home, until then I have to make it work for me overseas. I avoid at all costs countries like Kuwait, Saudi, Venezuela, Cuba, and Myanmar. They have well deserved bad reputations for international teachers. I am sure that some people will now post about their wonderful experiences in those countries but perhaps they are the exception as people who I know personally have shared how difficult their experiences were in those countries.

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  17. Anonymous says:

    The treatment of teachers and behavior of students in Kuwaiti schools reflects society in that country. Who wants to teach in fear and be looked on as an ‘infidel.’

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  18. Robert says:

    I am really glad I had read this blog. I had been deciding between working in a school in Kuwait and working in a school in China. I think the decision has been made for me – there is no way I would want to work in Kuwait after hearing these experiences.

    Like

    • macca says:

      don’t be too sure about China. There is the whole spectrum of schools from excellent to detrimental to your health.

      Like

    • snorks says:

      China rocks, yes a lot of bad schools, but even if the school is not very good, you will live in a great place, headed there again, myself. Worked in Middle east, horrible stay away, no body likes the middle east, except for my friends that are gay (no bad comments I love my gay brothers), a big hidden gay scene not talked about for the obvious reasons on woman are stowed away until marriage and after a young man gets a taste he seems to go back even after marriage

      Like

    • Hake says:

      I would go by school reputation. Look at what is being ranked well by teachers and students and for parents, rather than the nations as a whole. I agree with Macca. There are plenty of schools in China with similarly horrible stories.

      Like

  19. JILL B says:

    Be aware if you take a position in Kuwait. In the last 6 years or more there have been around as many elections and governments in power and lost of dissent among different parties. The main trouble seems to be that many schools tell Teachers to come in on a visitors visa and they will process your visa in a month or so. In most cases this is a complete lie and then you are working as an illegal and if caught you get deported from the country. I worked in Kuwait for nearly 2 years and during this time they always told me that they were processing my visa. I spent over $600 on Police Certificates, getting my degree verified by a Notary Public(solicitor) and other stamps such as Foreign Affairs, Kuwait Embassy all for nothing. When push came to shove they stated they could not get me a visa as I had turned 60. They knew this fact when they employed me but kept up the pretense of asking for all these documents pretending that they would get a visa when I produced the goods. Teachers be aware and do not take a position without a work permit. No Visa, No medical cover, and no rights. Yes it is true that the Embassy will possibly not bat for you as they are guests in the country and you are an illegal so you are on your own.

    Like

    • Tom Pamperin says:

      On the other hand, the school where I was hired at in Kuwait provided a work permit/work visa BEFORE asking me to do the police check and medical tests, and is reimbursing those fees.

      Like

      • Sarah says:

        I had gotten all the paperwork done before I went there to teach in Kuwait. I made through 3 years of teaching to pay off college debt and did so.

        There were some issues with some parents trying to control everything in all levels from elementary to high school. Some admin sided with the teacher while others did not. I just tried to keep in mind that different country, different customs, calmly get through the situation and pray to God that things would work out. Thankfully I’m on my next chapter of life.

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  20. Anonymous says:

    In Kuwait the school cannot do anything if a parent decides to slap a case on you. In fact, in many cases your embassy can’t even help you, or isn’t willing to help you out of fear of an international incident. This isn’t the fault of the school. It is an issue with the country and their government.

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  21. second time around says:

    Thank you ISR for removing the argument that was getting started. I feel good about posting now. I agree that this is a hugh problem in many international schools. We go overseas with the best of intentions and one parent who thinks their little angle can do no wrong can basically have you fired. I’m sure the directors fear these people as they too are a foreign country where they can be easily screwed with by powerful people. But, if you are that type of person that won’t stand up for your staff than you don’t belong in the position. This just further reinforces the idea that we really need to collect all the information we can on a school before we accept a job there.

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