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A car on Sunrise Valley Drive passes the Innovation Metro station (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

Fairfax County is again asking the state for money to offset anticipated reductions in resident vehicle tax payments.

At a meeting on Tuesday (Jan. 24), the Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a letter written by Chairman Jeff McKay for Gov. Glenn Youngkin, asking him to include money in his budget for localities to blunt the impact of a 15% decrease in car tax revenue.

“We all heard last year the complaints that came in. I don’t think people understand that we don’t set the value of cars. They are set by others,” Chairman Jeff McKay said. “So, the tool that we had in our toolbox was to automatically put a reduction in value on all those vehicles in the county. Even with that, most people’s…tax bills went up.”

Over the last several years, used car prices have increased dramatically, though they’ve started to come down in recent weeks. Because of that, many county taxpayers are paying significantly more in personal property tax — also known as the “car tax.”

Last year, the Board approved assessing vehicles at only 85% of market value in order to give some relief to county taxpayers. That came after Youngkin signed legislation giving localities express permission to do that, in accordance with the Dillon Rule.

However, the county relies on that money as part of its tax revenue to fund services. In 1998, Virginia passed the Personal Property Tax Relief Act, which dictates that the state should offer car tax relief and subsidize localities for lost revenue owed on the first $20,000 of a vehicle’s value.

But the amount of funding provided to localities hasn’t changed since 2007, and Virginia now provides 20% less relief. In other words, both taxpayers and the county government are getting significantly less money from the state than they did 16 years ago.

After cutting another 15% for fiscal year 2023, which began July 1, 2022, the Fairfax County board is asking to get more money back from the state — a request also made to the governor last year, McKay’s board matter notes.

Youngkin has suggested cutting the car tax entirely, but county officials have expressed some trepidation about the consequences unless the money is reimbursed. McKay said reimbursement might be possible now considering the state’s nearly $2 billion surplus.

“While either the state or county could eliminate car taxes all together, the state should honor its pledge of 1998 to eliminate the car tax while reimbursing local governments for lost revenue,” the letter to Youngkin says. “It is essential and possible, particularly as the state currently sits on a significant surplus, to allocate adequate funding to provide residents with effective personal property tax relief.”

Braddock District Supervisor James Walkinshaw argued that the state can’t truly claim to have a surplus until “the Commonwealth pays its bills…and this is an example.”

“If it doesn’t happen this year with the surplus that exists, it ain’t going to happen next year or the year after that,” he said.

While the governor already released his budget last month, amendments — including one to offset lost vehicle tax revenue — could still happen at the direction of the General Assembly.

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The South Korean cheese company Armored Fresh at CES 2023 in Las Vegas (via Armored Fresh Inc.)

A South Korean company that makes cheese out of almond milk hopes to ramp up its U.S. presence, starting with an expansion of its American headquarters in Tysons.

Armored Fresh has committed $125,000 to expanding its offices at 1765 Greensboro Station Place with 27 new marketing and sales employees, Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin announced today.

The expansion will enable the company to increase its footprint in the U.S. through both online sales and brick-and-mortar stores, according to the news release.

“It is gratifying to support the growth of an international company like Armored Fresh, whose success further strengthens Virginia’s standing as a prime global business destination,” Youngkin said. “The company is advancing food technology with its vegan cheese products, and we are proud that this industry innovation is happening right here in the Commonwealth.”

According to Youngkin, Virginia beat out California, Maryland, D.C. and New York to retain Armored Fresh.

Established in 2021, the company claims to be the first in the world to commercialize almond milk-based cheeses. Its cheese is sold in cubed, sliced, shredded and spreadable forms. All products are free of cholestrol, dairy, gluten and genetically modified organisms, according to its website.

The company made its U.S. debut in September, introducing its products to 100 grocery stores in New York City. An official global launch event was held on Oct. 24, and online sales are set to begin this month.

Per Youngkin’s office, the Virginia Economic Development Partnership worked with the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority to keep Armored Fresh’s headquarters. The Virginia Jobs Investment Program will provide consulting services and funding to support the planned new jobs.

In a statement, Armored Fresh CEO Andrew Yu noted that Fairfax County has “a rich history” in the dairy industry. The county was once home to more dairy farms than anywhere else in Virginia, a legacy kept alive at historic sites like Frying Pan Farm Park and Historic Blenheim.

“Armored Fresh is very excited to bring great-tasting, zero-dairy cheese that everyone can enjoy,” Yu said. “…Northern Virginia and Fairfax County has a rich history in dairy and is advancing in tech innovation. We’re glad to make Fairfax County our home and be part of the vibrant business and innovation community.”

State and local officials alike praised the news: Read More

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Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

(Updated at 4:30 p.m.) An outcry stoked by conservative activists over Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology (TJ) allegedly failing to promptly announce a student academic honor has reached the Virginia governor’s office.

In a letter released this morning (Tuesday), Gov. Glenn Youngkin urged Attorney General Jason Miyares to investigate the Fairfax County magnet school after it reportedly didn’t notify students commended by the National Merit Scholarship Program until after early college applications were due.

“We need to get to the bottom of what appears to be an egregious, deliberate attempt to disadvantage high-performing students at one of the best schools in the country,” Youngkin said. “Parents and students deserve answers and Attorney General Miyares will initiate a full investigation.”

Fairfax County Public Schools says it has initiated a third-party, independent investigation of its own but “stands ready to work with our partners at the state level,” should Miyares decide to pursue a review.

“Our preliminary understanding is that the delay this fall was a unique situation due to human error,” an FCPS spokesperson said. “The investigation will continue to examine our records in further detail and we will share key findings with our community.”

The school system said in a statement on Friday (Dec. 30) that families were notified as soon as the lapse “came to light.” Staff also sent emails and made follow-up calls to each college where the affected students had applied.

“FCPS understands the hard work and dedication of each and every student who competes for college acceptance and scholarship opportunities,” FCPS said. “We remain committed to supporting every student in reaching their full potential.”

The National Merit Scholarship Program recognizes students who receive the highest scores in the country on the preliminary SAT, essentially a practice for the main standardized test considered by most colleges and universities for admissions.

According to the National Merit website, about 50,000 students qualify for the program every year based on an index score calculated by doubling the sum of their reading, writing and math scores.

Notifications are sent out in late September, with about two-thirds of those students being commended and one-third advancing as semi-finalists. Only about 7,250 students win actual scholarships each year.

However, FCPS only announced the school’s semi-finalists in September. Commended students at TJ didn’t learn they had gotten the honor until teachers handed out certificates on Nov. 14, Coalition for TJ co-founder Asra Nomani said in the Fairfax County Times.

The Coalition for TJ sued Fairfax County Public Schools in 2021 over changes to the admissions system that were designed to boost diversity at the magnet school. The lawsuit is currently in a federal appeals court.

Nomani said she learned about the issue from Shawnna Yashar, a member of the Fairfax County Parents Association, which was incorporated in June 2021 by leaders of the Open FCPS campaign that urged schools to reopen early in the pandemic.

Since publishing last Thursday (Dec. 29), Nomani’s story has gotten picked up by several, mostly conservative outlets, including Fox News and the Daily Mail. Lt. Gov. Winsome Sears tweeted on Saturday (Dec. 31) that she had “reached out” to Youngkin and Miyares about a possible investigation.

The Fairfax County Parents Association and other groups have called for TJ principal Ann Bonitatibus to be fired and are planning to hold a rally outside the school this afternoon, according to WUSA9.

FCPS confirmed that Superintendent Michelle Reid is scheduled to meet with families this evening “to listen to their concerns.”

Parent and 11th District Republican Committee Vice Chair Srilekha Palle told WUSA9 she considers the delayed notifications “a criminal act.” Harry Jackson, another Coalition for TJ founder and brief GOP school board candidate hopeful, claimed administrators “wanted to downplay the significance of these awards to students in the name of equity.”

“I believe this failure may have caused material harm to those students and their parents, and that this failure may have violated the Virginia Human Rights Act,” Youngkin said in his letter to Miyares.

The letter doesn’t say how the lack of merit scholarship notifications might violate the Virginia Human Rights Act, which protects individuals from discrimination based on race, religion, sex and other characteristics.

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Students at West Potomac High School walked out in September to protest Virginia’s proposed policies on the treatment of transgender students (photo courtesy of Mara Surovell)

(Updated at 5:30 p.m.) The Virginia Department of Education has no clear timeline for when its new policies on the treatment of transgender students will take effect, leaving Fairfax County Public Schools and other local school districts waiting to see if the state makes any changes in response to vocal opposition to the proposal.

It has now been over a month since the state closed its public comment period for the draft “model” policies, which would require schools to identify students based on their sex assigned at birth and prohibit discipline for deadnaming or misgendering a student even if they get their official school records changed.

“The model policies document has not been finalized. The department is still in the process of reviewing public comment,” VDOE communications director Charles Pyle told FFXnow.

The department received more than 71,000 comments on the policies — some supportive, some critical — while the forum was open from Sept. 26 to Oct. 26.

The policies could’ve taken effect as soon as the comment period ended, but the VDOE said last month that the implementation would be delayed by 30 days under a state code provision that requires a delay if a guidance document might contradict state law.

Opponents of the proposed policies have argued that they would violate the Virginia Human Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination based on gender identity. A section on student participation in athletics also goes against the state law that directed VDOE to create the model policies, which explicitly excluded sports from consideration.

Though the additional 30-day deadline has now passed, Pyle says VDOE has no sense of when its public comments review might finish, citing the volume of comments. The department’s staff can make revisions to the draft guidelines, which must be approved by the state superintendent.

“We have more than 71,000 comments to sort through and the department is exploring options for completing the review,” Pyle said in a statement. “Even after the comments are reviewed, the department will take the time necessary to identify and make any edits identified and warranted by the review.”

The Fairfax County School Board has indicated it won’t adopt the model policies, which contradict its existing policies supporting LGBT students. The Board of Supervisors issued a formal statement opposing them, arguing that they would defy legal precedent and harm transgender and other gender-nonconforming students.

Gov. Glenn Youngkin, who has championed the policies as “protecting parents’ fundamental rights to make decisions for their children,” will be in Fairfax County tomorrow to celebrate last week’s opening of the extended I-66 Express Lanes.

According to a media advisory, Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay will also attend the ribbon-cutting ceremony in Fairfax Corner, but no policy discussions are expected between the Democratic chair and Republican governor.

“We are guessing the Governor is already well aware of Chairman McKay’s on-the-record staunch opposition to the proposed change in model policies and its impact on Fairfax County families,” McKay’s office said.

After the ribbon-cutting, Youngkin is scheduled to appear in Arlington for an unspecified economic development announcement.

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The Virginia Board of Education held a public hearing last week on new draft standards for history and social studies (via VDOE/YouTube)

Fairfax County’s teacher unions expressed relief after new state-proposed history standards were rejected by a governor-appointed board late last week.

On Thursday evening (Nov. 17), Virginia’s Board of Education voted unanimously to again delay approving new history standards drafted by the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE).

The proposed standards had numerous admitted mistakes, errors and typos, and was radically changed from a 400-page working draft first publicly released over the summer.

The new document was also significantly shorter. A longer “framework” document which will include information on how to teach the material will be released next summer, per the Washington Post.

“We are pleased to see that the Board of Education has heard the voices of teachers, students, parents, and community activists,” Fairfax County Federation of Teachers (FCFT) President David Walrod said. “The draft of standards presented [Thursday] was hastily assembled, with multiple new versions being released in a matter of days.”

Among the most discussed changes in the draft standards were omissions of both Martin Luther King Jr. Day and Juneteenth as holidays. They also described Virginia’s indigenous peoples as America’s “first immigrants,”

The draft also eliminated racism in America as a central theme to be taught in many grades, while removing instances of teaching students about culture and government outside Europe and the U.S.

The board’s rejection came after a four-hour public hearing where a number of speakers, including Walrod, called the new standards a “whitewashing” of history.

The VDOE first released this draft less than a week before the board was scheduled to vote on it, leading members to complain about the short timeframe for reviewing such large changes.

The approval had already been postponed from August after a previous draft was similarly riddled with mistakes and errors. That draft was also about 400 pages long, compared to the 57-page document this time around. Read More

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Students wear and wave Pride flags at Fairfax High School’s walkout (photo by Carys Owens)

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors is formally opposing Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s proposed model policies that would limit the rights of transgender and other gender-nonconforming students.

In a letter approved at a board meeting today (Tuesday), board chairman Jeff McKay said that the policies would have a negative effect on the county’s economic position and cites the human impact on students. Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity voted against the proposal.

“Your model policies – and the discrimination inherent to them – will have a chilling effect on our continued ability to attract the world’s most innovative companies to Fairfax County. To put it bluntly, discrimination is bad for business,” the letter, which is addressed to the Virginia Department of Education, states.

Braddock District Supervisor James Walkinshaw noted that the proposal policy is contradicted by U.S. Supreme Court decisions and other legal precedent.

“Thankfully, many school system in the Commonwealth don’t intend to adopt them,” Walkinshaw said.

When voting against the proposal, Herrity questioned why the county was weighing in on a proposal related to the school system when other issues — like declining enrollment, learning loss, and the achievement gap — need exploration as well.

“My biggest problem with the letter, I don’t see any staff working on this at all,” Herrity said. He also said parents need to be involved in “critical decisions of this magnitude,” adding that parental permission to give a child an aspirin in schools.

McKay responded by stating that the board’s letter is part of the  state’s education department call for public comment on the proposal — a comment period that ends tomorrow.

His letter also says that the policies put the county’s children at risk by denying support and affirmation to transgender students.

“A young LGBTQ person attempts suicide every 45 seconds in the United States. Key drivers of high rates of depression, anxiety, and suicide among transgender youth are the lack of social support and affirming experiences that they often face,” the letter states.

The proposed policies are at odds with the school system’s current policies that affirm students’ rights to accessing restrooms based on their gender identity and being called by their chosen names and pronouns. FCPS moved to update its previous policy — last amended in 2020 — based on state recommendations.

A spokesperson told FFXnow that the school system did not have more information to share about its position on the state’s policies. FCPS Superintendent Michelle Reid sent to families last month, stating that FCPS was reviewing the draft policies.

This is not the first time McKay has publicly questioned the draft policy. Earlier this month, McKay told FFXnow that the school system may have legal grounds to go against the model policies.

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Transgender pride flag (via Alexander Grey/Unsplash)

The Fairfax County School Board reaffirmed its support for transgender students last week as community members spoke out against policies proposed by the state that would limit their rights.

At a meeting on Thursday (Oct. 6), members issued a statement reiterating Fairfax County Public School’s commitment to policies that “will continue supporting our transgender and gender-expansive students, staff, and families”:

The Fairfax County School Board understands that our LGBTQIA+ students, staff, and families are worried about the impact of Governor Youngkin’s proposed model policies for transgender and gender-expansive students. Nearly one in five transgender and non-binary youth attempted suicide in the last year. LGBTQIA+ youth who found their school to be affirming reported lower rates of attempting suicide. It is necessary to ensure our school community is a place where all students can live without fear of prejudice, discrimination, harassment, or violence.

The statement followed walkouts in late September by thousands of students who opposed the draft policies from Gov. Glenn Youngkin and the Virginia Department of Education. Prior to the school board meeting, the LGBTQ staff advocacy group FCPS Pride led a protest in front of Luther Jackson Middle School.

Released on Sept. 16 and open for public comment through Oct. 26, the state’s draft policies direct schools to treat transgender and gender-expansive students according to their sex assigned at birth unless they present legal documentation of a change to their name or sex.

Even if a student changes their official school records, the policies say they must still use facilities based on their sex assigned at birth and prohibit schools from disciplining staff or students who misgender or deadname a student, citing free speech protections.

In its statement, the school board says FCPS will continue to adhere to its existing policy and regulation, which prohibit discrimination based on gender identity and promise acceptance of “a student or parent’s assertion of a student’s gender-expansive or transgender status.”

The policies allow students to use “a locker room or restroom consistent with the student’s gender identity,” which run opposed to the state’s new proposed policies.

When asked for a response to the school board’s statement, Youngkin’s office told FFXnow that the guidelines are not for the local school system to decide.

“Children belong to families not bureaucrats and school board members,” Youngkin spokesperson Macaulay Porter wrote in an email. “Virginians spoke clearly last year and they continue to say that parents matter. Parents deserve to be involved in all critical discussions about their children. School boards should bring them into the conversation, not cut them out of it.”

Noting that most school districts in Virginia never adopted model policies under former governor Ralph Northam, Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay told FFXnow last month that he believes the county would be on “safe legal ground” if FCPS sticks with its own policies. Read More

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Students wear and wave Pride flags at Fairfax High School’s walkout (photo by Carys Owens)

(Updated, 3:20 p.m.) Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay believes the county will be on “safe legal ground” if it chooses to not follow Virginia’s recently-proposed model policies that would limit the rights of transgender and other gender-nonconforming students.

Based on conversations with the school board, Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS), and legal experts since the draft policies were unveiled earlier this month, McKay senses the school system will ultimately stick with its current policies, he told FFXnow yesterday (Wednesday).

The proposed policies would reverse regulations that FCPS adopted in 2020 affirming students’ right to access restrooms according to their gender identity and be called by their chosen names and pronouns. The regulation was updated last year based on state recommendations.

“If we do it and ignore [what] the governor is dictating here…my prediction based on everything I’m hearing is that the legal folks will say you’re on safe legal ground to continue the good practices that you have in place and not adhere to these new ones. That’s certainly what I’m being told preliminarily,” McKay told FFXnow.

McKay noted that, as has been reported elsewhere, legal experts have identified a myriad of legal problems” with the new proposed policies, including protections from discrimination based on gender identity in the Virginia Human Rights Act.

The cities of Falls Church and Alexandria have already indicated that they won’t adhere to the state policies. State Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-30), who represents parts of Fairfax County, Alexandria, and Arlington County, told FFXnow on Tuesday (Sept. 27) that there could be basis for a lawsuit.

“I think there’s existing law problems. I think there’s case law problems. I think there’s political problems,” McKay said. “And so, my suspicion is that we will likely be able to continue doing what we’re doing.”

The governor may be relying on the Dillon Rule as the rationale for arguing counties must adhere to the guidelines, if they’re adopted, McKay says.

Under that rule, localities only have legal authorities expressly granted to them by the state, but that doesn’t absolve the governor from the “obligation of being consistent with case law that’s already been established,” he said.

When asked whether the school system plans on taking legal action if the policies are adopted by the state, an FCPS spokesperson said they have no comment for now beyond a message that Superintendent Michelle Reid sent to families earlier this month, stating that FCPS was reviewing the draft policies.

“We will share more information when it is available,” the spokesperson said. Read More

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Across Fairfax County and Virginia, thousands of students walked out today (Tuesday) in protest of proposed state policies that would limit schools’ ability to support transgender and other gender-nonconforming students.

Students from more than 90 schools, including nearly 30 in Fairfax County, took a stand against policies introduced earlier this month by Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin regulating everything from which bathroom a student can use to the definition of “the phrase ‘transgender student.'”

The walkout protests were organized by the Pride Liberation Project, a student-led organization that advocates for the LQBTQ+ community in schools. The group aims to persuade the governor to revoke the draft policies, which are now open for public comment through Oct. 26.

Since the policies were announced more than a week ago, local school districts, board members, and elected officials have questioned and overwhelmingly come out against policies that would severely curtail the rights of and support that school districts can give transgender students.

Fairfax County Public Schools said last week that it was “reviewing” the proposed policies and reiterated a commitment to supporting LGBTQ students.

Today, though, it was students’ turn to make their voices heard.

At West Potomac High School in Belle Haven, an estimated 1,000 students walked out at 10 a.m. in protest. They filed into bleachers on the football field, while speakers shared their experiences and why they personally would be affected by the new policies.

“As a trans [person], I have been discriminated against for my gender identity and was told it was wrong. That I was wrong,” said a West Potomac High School senior. “These policies are just a new case of this happening.”

“I can’t be a student if I don’t know what name my teacher is going to call me,” said another student.

Mara Surovell, one of the lead organizers for the West Potomac High School walkout, hopes it will encourage Youngkin to not implement the policies or, at the very least, allow school districts the authority to continue to implement their own guidance.

“Most of my friends are transgender and my sister is also transgender. So it affects all people I love. And I don’t want any of my friends to feel like school is an unsafe place,” Surovell told FFXnow. “I don’t want to see…their mental health plummet because of these policies, and I really just want them to feel safe and loved, and I don’t think that’ll happen if these policies get approved.”

Students involved in walkouts at South Lakes High School in Reston and Marshall High School in Idylwood shared similar thoughts.

Rishi Chandra, a South Lakes junior, said that he has personally seen how well trans and nonbinary students can do in school when they feel safe, but if the new policies get approved, they will “harm queer students.” Read More

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Pangiam Chairman and CEO Kevin McAleenan with Virginia Secretary of Commerce and Trade Caren Merrick (courtesy Pangiam)

(Updated at 3:55 p.m. on 9/23/2022) A consultant that provides facial recognition technology and other identity verification services to the travel and security industries has selected Tysons as the site of its new global headquarters.

Drawn by Fairfax County’s “dynamic” workforce, Pangiam will establish a base at Valo Park (7950 Jones Branch Drive) with a $3.1 million investment, Gov. Glenn Youngkin announced this morning (Thursday).

The move will expand the business with 20,000 additional square feet of office space and 201 new jobs in the county over the next three years, according to press releases from the governor’s office and the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority (FCEDA).

“We chose Virginia as our headquarters for a variety of reasons,” Pangiam Chief Investment Officer Tom Plofchan said. “First, it’s home. Our leadership team is either from Virginia or built their careers and families here, so it was only right to build and try to contribute to the local community when we started Pangiam.”

Plofchan also cited Northern Virginia’s proximity to the federal government and “world-class” talent pool as factors in Pangiam’s decision.

“Our collaboration with Virginia’s universities has helped our team, just a handful of people with a vision less than three years ago, compete with some of the largest companies in the world for talent,” he said.

Founded by customs and security professionals in 2019 and acquired by a private equity firm in 2020, Pangiam develops tools that use data analytics, biometrics and artificial intelligence to boost security and detect potential threats, with airports as a top focus.

The company’s clients include the Department of Homeland Security, the Air Force, Delta and United airlines and Washington National Airport, per the FCEDA.

Pangiam has been occupying “temporary space” in Virginia during the buildout of its new headquarters, a spokesperson said.

“With the support of our partners at Stream Realty, the attention to detail and execution provided by our GC team at DWatts, and the flexibility and innovative design vision Collective Architecture brought to the equation, the new facility gives us space to grow and the work environment to attract top local and national talent back to the office,” Pangiam told FFXnow by email.

Secured through a collaboration between the county and state economic development teams, the selection of Tysons cements Fairfax County’s “strong position as a place of choice for tech industry leaders,” FCEDA President and CEO Victor Hoskins said in a statement.

“With safety always at the forefront of everyone’s minds, Fairfax County is pleased to have Pangiam’s headquarters in Fairfax County, the heart of America’s national security infrastructure,” Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay said. “As Pangiam works to secure our ports of entry using next-generation technology, we welcome their expansion to Tysons and the hundreds of new jobs they are bringing.”

The announcement comes just a day after Youngkin shared that another tech startup, Enabled Intelligence Inc., will expand its headquarters in West Falls Church.

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