Betsy DeVos sued for allegedly refusing to follow court order

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is being sued for refusing to follow a judge’s order to implement Obama-era regulations. The lawsuit claims DeVos was required to “discharge,” or stop collecting on loans of students who attended for-profit schools and colleges if the institution or their campus had shut down, as The Hill reports.

“It has been nearly two years since these rules should have taken effect, and Secretary DeVos is still dragging her feet and hurting tens of thousands of borrowers through her inaction,” National Student Legal Defense Network (NSLDN) President Aaron Ament said in a statement.

“The students we are trying to help have been doubly victimized – first by the for-profit colleges that deceived them, and now by the federal government that refuses to help.”

The lawsuit says the Education Dept. continues to collect on debts the students should not owe.

The Hill adds that a federal court in October “ruled that the Obama-era debt regulations had to be implemented after over a year of delays by DeVos.”

The Washington Post notes that Secretary DeVos “said that the rule made it too easy for students to cancel their debts and that she intended to replace it with her own version to take effect next year.”

In August the LA Times Editorial Board charged that DeVos “sides with predatory for-profit colleges over America’s students.”

[Raw Story]

DeVos prepping new rules on sexual misconduct standards for campuses

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is formulating new policies regarding how universities handle sexual assault and harassment cases.

The new rules would increase protections for students accused of sexual misconduct, reduce liability for colleges and universities and encourage schools to broaden their support networks for victims, according to The New York Times.

The rules would reportedly limit accountability for schools to complaints that happened on campus and were filed through proper authorities. They would also raise the bar legally for proving a school mishandled a complaint, according to the Times.

The move comes while multiple universities are facing allegations that staff members failed to properly act when made aware of sexual misconduct.

“We are in the midst of a deliberative process. Any information the New York Times claims to have is premature and speculative, and therefore we have no comment.” Liz Hill, press secretary for the Department of Education, told The Hill in a statement.

Last year, DeVos rescinded Obama-era guidelines for universities handling sexual assault complaints. Rescinding the requirements did not have the force of law, while the new rules would, according to the Times.

The move comes while multiple universities are facing allegations that staff members failed to properly act when made aware of sexual misconduct.

“We are in the midst of a deliberative process. Any information the New York Times claims to have is premature and speculative, and therefore we have no comment.” Liz Hill, press secretary for the Department of Education, told The Hill in a statement.

Last year, DeVos rescinded Obama-era guidelinesfor universities handling sexual assault complaints. Rescinding the requirements did not have the force of law, while the new rules would, according to the Times.

DeVos claimed the guidelines represented federal overreach.

“The truth is that the system established by the prior administration has failed too many students,” she said at the time. “Survivors, victims of a lack of due process and campus administrators have all told me that the current approach does a disservice to everyone involved.”

[The Hill]

Student Loan Watchdog Quits; Blames Trump Administration

The federal official in charge of protecting student borrowers from predatory lending practices has stepped down.

In a scathing resignation letter, Seth Frotman, who until now was the student loan ombudsman at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, says current leadership “has turned its back on young people and their financial futures.” The letter was addressed to Mick Mulvaney, the bureau’s acting director.

In the letter, obtained by NPR, Frotman accuses Mulvaney and the Trump administration of undermining the CFPB and its ability to protect student borrowers.

“Unfortunately, under your leadership, the Bureau has abandoned the very consumers it is tasked by Congress with protecting,” it read. “Instead, you have used the Bureau to serve the wishes of the most powerful financial companies in America.”

The letter raises serious questions about the federal government’s willingness to oversee the $1.5 trillion student loan industry and to protect student borrowers.

Frotman has served as student loan ombudsman for the past three years. Congress created the position in 2010, in the wake of the financial crisis, as part of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. As ombudsman and assistant director, Frotman oversaw the CFPB’s Office for Students and Young Consumers and reviewed thousands of complaints from student borrowers about the questionable practices of private lenders, loan servicers and debt collectors.

Since 2011, the CFPB has handled more than 60,000 student loan complaints and, through its investigations and enforcement actions, returned more than $750 million to aggrieved borrowers. Frotman’s office was central to those efforts. It also played a role in lawsuits against for-profit giants ITT Tech and Corinthian Colleges and the student loan company Navient.

Over the past year, the Trump administration has increasingly sidelined the CFPB’s student loan office. Last August, the U.S. Department of Education announced it would stop sharing information with the bureau about the department’s oversight of federal student loans, calling the CFPB “overreaching and unaccountable” and arguing that the bureau’s actions were confusing borrowers and loan servicers alike. Of the move, Frotman writes, “the Bureau’s current leadership folded to political pressure … and failed borrowers who depend on independent oversight to halt bad practices.”

In May, Mulvaney called for a major shake-up in Frotman’s division. The Office for Students and Young Consumers would be folded into the bureau’s financial education office, signaling a symbolic shift in mission from investigation to information-sharing. While the CFPB told NPR at the time that the move was “a very modest organizational chart change,” consumer advocates reacted with alarm.

Christopher Peterson, director of financial services at the nonprofit Consumer Federation of America, called the move “an appalling step in a longer march toward the elimination of meaningful American consumer protection law.”

In his resignation, Frotman also accuses the CFPB’s leadership of suppressing a report, prepared by his office, revealing new evidence that some of the nation’s largest banks were “saddling [students] with legally dubious account fees.”

The Trump administration has also taken steps outside the CFPB to curb oversight of the student loan industry. The Justice and Education departments have argued that debt collectors should be protected from state efforts to regulate them. And, earlier this month, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos moved to scrap a rule meant to punish schools where graduates struggle with poor earnings and deep debt. The department defended its decision, saying it would instead give borrowers school performance data so they can decide for themselves what colleges offer the best value.

Mick Mulvaney was tapped to run the CFPB while also serving as director of the Office of Management and Budget. Before joining the Trump administration, he was a Republican congressman from South Carolina and a fierce critic of the bureau he now manages. He once called the CFPB “a joke … in a sick, sad kind of way” because, Mulvaney argued, it often acted above the law with no accountability to Congress.

Frotman has served at the CFPB for seven years, since its inception. He arrived in early 2011 as part of the Treasury Department’s implementation team. Frotman began in the Office of Servicemember Affairs as senior adviser to Holly Petraeus. That office was instrumental in expanding service member protections under the Military Lending Act and in cracking down on lenders and retailers that preyed on service members.

Petraeus, now retired, tells NPR she felt “privileged” to have worked with Frotman at the CFPB. “Seth is a true public servant. I think he’s leaving for the purest of motives: He wants to help student borrowers.”

In response to a request for comment, the CFPB issued this statement: “The Bureau does not comment on specific personnel matters. We hope that all of our departing employees find fulfillment in other pursuits and we thank them for their service.”

[NPR]

 

DeVos is reportedly considering letting schools use federal money to arm teachers

US Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is considering a policy change that would allow states and school districts to use federal money to buy guns for teachers, according to a report by the New York Times’s Erica Green.

This comes as the idea of arming teachers is picking up steam among some conservatives since the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida, in February. Two Florida universities have pilot programs to arm educators, and the Florida state legislature passed a bill in March that would allow armed teachers in school classrooms.

The federal government typically bans the use of federal funds to purchase firearms for schools. But DeVos and officials at the Department of Education are reportedly considering the use of Student Support and Academic Enrichment grants — which don’t exclude states or local districts from buying guns. The department wouldn’t need Congress’s approval, since the grants are already law.

These grants are part of the Every Student Succeeds Act, a major federal education law passed in 2015. The grants are typically used to boost student health and wellness, but they don’t say they can’t be used to buy firearms.

With all the discussion about increasing the number of armed professionals in schools this year in the wake of more high-profile school shootings, Congress has stopped short of using federal money to arm teachers. A school safety bill passed earlier this year that contained $50 million per year for districts, but it banned the districts from using any of the money to buy firearms.

The Education Department is trying to downplay the report: “The Department is constantly considering and evaluating policy issues, particularly issues related to school safety,” Education Department spokesperson Liz Hill said in a statement to Vox. “The Secretary nor the Department issues opinions on hypothetical scenarios.”

Hill also told Education Week, “The NY Times piece is getting blown way out of proportion.”

There’s also a new effort underway in the Senate to try to stop DeVos from moving forward, should she choose to. Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT), an outspoken supporter of gun control issues, introduced an emergency amendment to an Education Department funding bill on Thursday that would ban DeVos from using federal money to arm teachers.

“My lord — we can’t let this happen,” Murphy said.

Texas initially asked about buying guns with federal money

The Education Department reportedly started studying the issue after getting a question from officials in Texas about whether the federal ESSA grants could be used to buy guns, according to Education Week’s Andrew Ujifusa.

“Department officials have been researching the issue, like they do with every issue, in response to this Texas letter,” a senior Trump administration official told Ujifusa, noting that while discussions were ongoing, no final decision has been made yet.

If DeVos were to approve the money to allow local districts to buy guns or train teachers on using them, the decision would likely be extremely controversial, both within the education community and outside it.

National gun safety groups and teachers unions issued statements condemning the Education Department for even considering the move.

[Vox]

DeVos ends Obama-era protections for students of for-profit colleges

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos moved Friday to end rules passed under the Obama administration that penalized for-profit colleges with a record of leaving graduates in crippling debt and with few job prospects.

In a statement that appeared on the Education Department’s website on Friday, the agency claimed the move was born out of an effort to treat all types of institutions “fairly.”

“Students deserve useful and relevant data when making important decisions about their education post-high school,” DeVos wrote in the statement.

“That’s why instead of targeting schools simply by their tax status, this administration is working to ensure students have transparent, meaningful information about all colleges and all programs. Our new approach will aid students across all sectors of higher education and improve accountability.”

The agency is now seeking public comment on whether or not the Department of Education should require institutions to disclose publicly whether their programs are accredited as well as their program graduation rates and costs.

After the 30-day comment period, the Obama-era rule is set to be reversed on July 1, 2019.

DeVos’ plan to roll back the gainful employment rule was first reported last month. At that time, the agency refused to comment on the proposal until its completion and publication.

DeVos has taken a number of steps to roll back other Obama-era rules targeting for-profit colleges, including dismantling a team dedicated to uncovering fraud at such institutions and reinstating a for-profit college accreditor despite her own staff’s warnings that the organization did not meet federal standards.

For-profit college fraud investigations scaled back under Betsy DeVos

A Department of Education team that had looked into fraud and abuse by for-profit colleges has been dismantled to the point that it has “effectively killed investigations” into institutions where top hires of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos once worked, The New York Times reported Sunday, citing current and former employees.

The team has gone from about a dozen lawyers and investigators looking into advertising, recruitment, and graduate employment claims of several institutions at the end of the Obama administration to just three team members today, the Times reported. Current and former employees, including former team members, said the team’s mission has been reduced to processing student loan forgiveness applications and examining smaller compliance cases, the newspaper said.

An investigation into DeVry University, now known as Adtalem Global Education, “ground to a halt early last year,” and later, over the summer, DeVos picked Julian Schmoke, a former dean at the school, to be the team’s supervisor, the Times reported.

Meanwhile, probes into for-profit education companies Bridgepoint Education and Career Education Corp. also “went dark,” the newspaper said. The Times reported that former employees of those institutions are working for DeVos as well, including Robert S. Eitel, a former Bridgepoint attorney who is now her senior counselor, and Diane Auer Jones, a former Career Education employee who is now a senior postsecondary education adviser at the department. The department’s recently confirmed general counsel, Carlos G. Muñiz, provided consulting services to Career Education, the newspaper said.

[CNN]

DeVos Education Dept. Begins Dismissing Civil Rights Cases in Name of Efficiency

The Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights has begun dismissing hundreds of civil rights complaints under a new protocol that allows investigators to disregard cases that are part of serial filings or that they consider burdensome to the office.

Department officials said the new policy targeted advocates who flooded the office with thousands of complaints for similar violations, jamming its investigation pipeline with cases that could be resolved without exhausting staff and resources. But civil rights advocates worry that the office’s rejection of legitimate claims is the most obvious example to date of its diminishing role in enforcing civil rights laws in the nation’s schools.

Liz Hill, a spokeswoman for the Education Department, said the new provision was part of the office’s revision of its manual that lays out procedures for processing civil rights cases. The goal of the new manual, which took effect last month, is to help the office better manage its docket, investigations and resolutions, she said.

Among the changes implemented immediately is a provision that allows the Office for Civil Rights to dismiss cases that reflect “a pattern of complaints previously filed with O.C.R. by an individual or a group against multiple recipients,” or complaints “filed for the first time against multiple recipients that” place “an unreasonable burden on O.C.R.’s resources.”

So far, the provision has resulted in the dismissal of more than 500 disability rights complaints.

Catherine E. Lhamon, who led the Office for Civil Rights under the Obama administration, said the new provision undermined the mission of the office. Unlike the Justice Department, the Education Department cannot pick and choose the cases it pursues. If the office has evidence that the law has been violated, it must open a case.

“The thing that scares me is when they get to say ‘we won’t open some cases because it’s too much for us,’ or ‘we don’t like complainant,’ or ‘it’s not our week to work on that,’ you start to change the character of the office,” Ms. Lhamon said.

But Debora L. Osgood, a lawyer who worked for 25 years at the Office for Civil Rights and now consults with and represents schools on civil rights matters, praised the change. She said the provision showed that the agency was “essentially taking the reins back for control of its complaint docket.”

Ms. Osgood said that in her experience, one person could clog the pipeline in each of the agency’s 12 regional offices, limiting investigators’ ability to respond to other complaints. It often frustrated investigators who prided themselves on being able to resolve complaints promptly, she said.

[The New York Times]

How could Trump be so clueless about community colleges?

(CNN) When I started college at 19, I was timid and unsure of the big world ahead of me.

Fast-forward two years later and I felt like a different person: More confident, more self-assured and more determined than ever to pursue a degree in journalism after a high school hobby grew into a full-fledged passion.

The positive changes were remarkable, and I credit much of my transformation to one thing: My education at a community college.

Sadly, though, community colleges don’t hold much value, at least if you listen to President Donald Trump. Last week, during a speech at an Ohio training facility for construction apprentices, he spoke of his desire to return to the days of vocational schools while simultaneously underscoring the valuable role community colleges play in society.

“I don’t know what that means, a community college,” Trump told the crowd in Richfield, Ohio. “Call it vocational and technical. People know what that means. They don’t know what a community college means.”

In the world of Trump quotes, this was a pretty blink-and-you-missed it one, but his words were misguided at best and incredibly destructive at worst. For Trump to display such casual ignorance shows a disregard that is nothing short of a grave disservice to the people who seek a quality education there.

And the number of people who do is not a small one in the slightest. According to the College Board, which tracks trends in higher education, in 2014 more than 40% of all undergraduate students were enrolled in a community college.

So what exactly does “community college” mean? Many things to many people. Different things to different people. It means a chance for a single parent who works full-time to take night classes and work toward a degree. It means someone who’s retired can experience the excitement of continuing education classes. It means someone fresh out of high school can save money on tuition and explore their options while taking general education classes at a two-year college.

My community college education gave me a solid foundation right from the beginning. It gave me room to grow, to learn about myself and to develop skills — both academic skills and life skills — that I would carry with me even after I left those hallowed halls and found myself in the “real world.” And things like smaller class sizes and more one-on-one interaction with instructors made me realize that solid foundation was unique; I doubt I would have had the same experience if I started at a four-year university right out of high school.

And I doubt I’d be the writer I am today if it weren’t for the time I spent as a staff writer (and later, editor-in-chief) of my college’s student newspaper. I was able to get hands-on experience in all facets of newspaper production, from writing to interviewing sources to editing to design, as well as learning leadership skills that extended far beyond the classroom.

Maybe that’s why, some six years after I graduated, I found myself walking those old, familiar halls of my community college once again. Only this time, I was no longer a student, but an adjunct faculty member. I was back as the faculty adviser to the student newspaper — yes, the same newspaper I worked on when I was a student. I was training the next generation of student journalists. In a way, it felt like everything was falling into place just as it should. It felt like everything had come full circle and I was home again.

That is the power and meaning of community college. Because everything I learned in those couple years have molded and shaped me into the person I am today. I’ve carried those lessons with me.

My community college turns 50 this year. Its longevity speaks volumes, as do the memories I’ve carried with me for almost two decades.

As Alia Wong wrote recently in “The Atlantic,” the erroneous assumption Trump made in his speech “was that community colleges and vocational schools haven’t been able to and can’t exist alongside each other — a misunderstanding that further underappreciates an already underappreciated component of American education.”

Maybe that’s the beauty of it right there: Community colleges serve a variety of purposes, all of which benefit our present and future. Education, in all its forms, is never a waste of time. Taking steps to learn something and to better yourself is always a worthwhile endeavor. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

[CNN]

Media

Betsy DeVos Is Telling States to Stop Cracking Down on Student Loan Companies

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has stepped into a fight between student loan companies and state regulators — and she’s siding with the loan companies.

State attorneys general have led the charge to hold loan servicers accountable for practices that hurt consumers. The loan companies, by contrast, have argued that because they are hired directly by the U.S. government to manage loan repayment for roughly 40 million borrowers, they shouldn’t be subject to additional state laws aimed at protecting those borrowers.

Now, in an announcement posted online Friday, the U.S. Department of Education has taken a side — maintaining that state rules aimed at greater consumer protection undermine the federal government’s goal to have a single, streamlined federal loan program.

The memo doesn’t have any legal effect on current state laws, according to consumer advocates at the Center for Responsible Lending. But it is the latest move in an ongoing struggle between student loan servicers and state lawmakers.

Loan servicers basically serve as middlemen between you and your lender (in this case, the federal government). You likely associate their names—Navient, Nelnet, PHEAA, or MOHELA, for example—with your monthly student loan bill. Consumer and student advocates have been criticizing the behavior of servicers for years. Borrowers complain of lost paperwork, conflicting advice on repayment plans, payments applied to the wrong loans, and more.

Back in 2015, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau reported that sloppy customer service practices had led to higher interest charges and late fees, longer repayment, and massive confusion for borrowers. More recently, the Bureau received 12,900 student loan complaints between September 2016 and August 2017 — and 70% of them were related to servicing issues.

Regulators in a handful of states say that federal oversight hasn’t been strict enough to rein in this bad behavior, and have launched their own investigations into the practices of student loan servicers. Twelve states and the District of Columbia also have either passed or introduced legislation that requires loan servicers to obtain licenses — and therefore abide by a given set of guidelines — to operate in their state, according to the National Council of Higher Education Resources, a trade group for lenders.

In Illinois, for example, the Student Loan Bill of Rights — which survived a veto from the governor last fall — will require servicers to employ specially trained staffers to advise struggling borrowers of their repayment plan options. Other state rules outline how quickly servicers must respond to borrower inquiries, or require them to alert a borrower whose account has been transferred to a new servicer (a common practice that borrowers often don’t know about).

The loan servicers, for their part, say they already follow rules put in place by the federal government — and that because they manage accounts across the country, complying with a myriad of additional state laws would be counterproductive, duplicative, and confusing.

NCHER, the lender trade group, said on Friday that while the group believes there are ways the federal loan system could be improved, the current collection of state laws is a “regulatory maze” that adds confusion for borrowers and additional costs for the federal government.

In October, a group of 25 state attorneys general sent a letter to DeVos, defending their right to “[protect] their residents from fraudulent and abusive practices” and asking her not to bow to pressure from industry groups that wanted the department to step in on their behalf. That group of state officials included Democratic attorneys general from Massachusetts, New York, and Connecticut, all of which have been at the forefront of pushing for better oversight of student loan servicers. But it also included attorneys general from some Republican states, including Texas, Tennessee, and Indiana.

Politico first reported on DeVos’s plans to try to shield loan servicers from state regulations. The magazine also found, through a records request, that the Education Department has told the student loan companies not to respond directly to information requests from third parties — including state regulators.

More than 11 million borrowers are several months behind on their loan payments, and the rate of new defaults has continued to increase despite the presence of income-driven repayment plans that should keep borrowers out of default. That’s one reason consumer advocates say servicers must do better about informing borrowers about repayment options.

In the department’s newly released memo, DeVos writes that existing federal protections already “ensure that borrowers receive exemplary customer service and are protected from substandard practices.”

Consumer advocates disagree, with many immediately bashing the move from DeVos. The National Consumer Law Center described it as a “plan to protect servicers and debt collectors that lie to borrowers.”

The Consumer Federation of America, meanwhile, says the department’s interpretation doesn’t hold up legally, and that state regulators should ignore it. (Some state lawmakers have already indicated they plan to.) Lawmakers have long held that the federal Higher Education Act doesn’t override state laws that offer additional protections to borrowers, as long as those rules don’t directly conflict with federal law, according to the statement from Christopher Peterson, a senior fellow at the Consumer Federation of America.

“Now the Trump Administration is attempting to trample states’ authority and the best interests of student loan borrowers to pad the bottom line of debt collection businesses,” their statement reads.

[TIME]

Trump insists on arming teachers despite lack of evidence it would stop shootings

In the past 24 hours, Donald Trump has thrice backed a plan to arm teachers in US schools despite the lack of evidence showing this would end school shootings.

Facing opposition from the country’s largest teachers’ unions, school security guards and military veterans, the president continued to endorse the plan in White House meetings and on Twitter.

“I want my schools protected just like I want my banks protected,” Trump said Thursday morning in a meeting about school safety at the White House.

In the Thursday meeting, the president suggested offering bonuses to teachers who are trained to carry concealed weapons.

“If you had a teacher who was adept at firearms, they could very well end the attack very quickly,” Trump said at a Wednesday night listening session with loved ones of people killed in mass shootings.

There are few examples available of armed citizens stopping mass shootings and it is difficult to track, in part because it is difficult to know what a gunman was planning before they were stopped.

A 2014 Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) study of US active shooter incidents in the US between 2000 and 2013 said of the 160 total incidents examined, 21 were stopped by citizens, workers or off-duty police officers. Of the 21 people, six were armed.

An active shooter incident is defined as a shooting that occurs in a confined, populated area and in which law enforcement or citizens could affect the outcome based on their response. Shootings related to gang violence, accidents and suicides were not included in the tally.

The majority of the 160 incidents, 56.3%, were ended by the shooter before police arrived. Either the shooter committed suicide, stopped shooting or fled the scene. “The FBI recognizes that seeking to avoid these tragedies is clearly the best result,” the study concluded.

Trump’s suggestion to arm teachers was immediately opposed by the nation’s largest teachers’ unions – the National Education Association (NEA) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) – as well as the teachers’ union in Florida’s Broward County, where last week’s shooting took place.

Individual teachers criticized Trump’s suggestion on social media under the #ArmMeWith campaign. There, teachers asked that the money that would be needed to fulfill Trump’s plan instead be used to improve schools resources such as mental health services and basic classroom supplies.

A former assistant principal who stopped a shooting at a high school in Mississippi while armed told the New York Times the experience left him with nightmares and acute stress for six months afterward.

“It doesn’t matter what a pistolero you are, or think you are,” Joel Myrick said. “You don’t need to be in school in charge of protecting children.”

The National Association of School Resource Officers (NASRO), the nation’s largest school policing group, also said it opposed arming teachers. They noted law enforcement officers responding to an incident may mistake armed personnel not in uniform as the assailant. They also emphasized how law enforcement officers receive ongoing practice in high-stress and difficult shooting environments.

At the Wednesday listening session, Trump also described a situation where there would simply be more armed people on campus – not just teachers.

“They may be Marines that left the Marines, left the Army, left the Air Force,” Trump said. “And they’re very adept at doing that. You’d have a lot of them, and they’d be spread evenly throughout the school.”

Veterans disputed this claim on Twitter.

Jay Kirell, a combat veteran who served in Afghanistan, said it was “extremely difficult” to shoot under stress. “Cops & soldiers literally get paid to do this & most of them can’t shoot accurately under stress,” Kirell tweeted.

Daniel Riley, an infantryman in the Marines who attended Columbine high school, guessed how many Marines would have been needed to prevent students being killed at his alma mater during the 1999 attack.

“Using my knowledge of both, my guess on what it would take to prevent kids from being killed on 4/20/99: at least 20 Armed Marines (And it’s still a maybe),” Riley said. “And that’s somehow ‘common sense’?”

Trump’s proposal ignores the efficacy of gun laws in other countries where there are far fewer incidents of gun violence.

[The Guardian]

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