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District Throws In Towel on School Uniforms, Largely Relaxing Policy For Simplicity’s Sake

| June 4, 2013

Students win. (Alain Bachellier)

Students win. (Alain Bachellier)

The Flagler County School Board won’t say so explicitly, but it’s saying it by policy. The board is largely conceding defeat on the dress code policy (or “school uniform” policy, as parents and students misunderstood it) crafted amid much controversy last year. This evening, the board will quietly approve revisions to that policy that vastly relax it, especially for high school students who, in many respects, will be able to return to the sort of clothing they wore before the stricter policy was in place.

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Specific color restrictions will be gone, as long as students wear solid colors, so there will be no more agonizing debates about blue-looking or pink-looking shirts that did not quite fit the policy. There’s more flexibility with pants, too. There are a couple of new restrictions—no sheer –type or lace shirts—but those are outweighed by the changes in students’ favor. Even restrictions on “outerwear,” including sweatshirts, will be gone, as long as the clothing is “school appropriate,” whatever that may mean.

The “whatever” was of concern to the board attorney and some board members, but its determination will be left in the hands of each school’s disciplinary committee member. For middle and elementary school students, the stricter rules are still in place, though they haven’t been as much of an issue as they had been in the two high schools.

“To really make it short for you,” Katrina Townsend, the district’s director of student services told the school board at a meeting late last month, summing up a committee’s work on the matter, “the exact quote from the final meeting on this was, we either need to be more like a uniform, which means you literally will be able to walk into Matanzas and they’ll all be in Matanzas blue and khaki, or we need to not have to have some of these conversations.”

Board member John Fischer, who had pushed for the strict policy, was dismayed by the changes. “There’s too much broadness there, you’re opening it up to pretty much anything,” John Fischer said. Even his proposal to do away with “Spirit Day,” a sort of school version of dress-down Friday, was cast aside.

john fischer flagler county school board

John Fischer (© FlaglerLive)

“I’m on board with the clarity,” Andy Dance, the school board chairman, said. “I don’t think it does any good if we can’t enforce it, if we’re spending too much time, a disproportionate amount of time, on some of the little things. Then those are what we should be cleaning up. I don’t know what we will be getting into with this definition. I guess it’s another phase in the development of this policy”

Members of the disciplinary committee who work in each school will also have the authority to make day-to-day determinations about what is and what isn’t appropriate. That will eliminate a great deal of back-and-forth emails between schools and the central office, and the time wasting that goes along with it. Committee members told the school board that the dress code has changed the culture for the better. They’re not for repealing it, but for making it more realistic—and less of an enforcement hassle.

When the board tried to justify imposing a new, stricter dress code last year, it did so with little to no evidence that such a policy would make a difference academically or in other ways in schools. That evidence just doesn’t exist, except anecdotally, and often prejudicially: educators who think a strict dress code makes a difference will say so, citing their experience. Educators who think it makes no difference will cite their own experience to that effect.

Still, one of the recurring bits of evidence the Flagler school board seized on, especially after its visit there, was Seminole County’s experience with uniforms. Once implemented there, standardized test scores happen to have gone up, at least for a while. It could very well have been a coincidence. FCAT scores go up some years, down others, and in recent years—the years Seminole pointed to—they were on an upward trend. With that in hand, and a general sense that uniforms could make a difference, Flagler went that route.

It did not impose a strict uniform so much as tighten its existing dress code by limiting what students could wear, and citing what they could not.

With a year’s worth of experience and data, the board has taken a fresh look at its experiment. By most measures—the school district’s own measure—it’s been a bust: the number of referrals have skyrocketed, staffers can still be unsure whether and what to enforce, and, judging by the earliest batch of FCAT reading, math and writing scores for most grades, those numbers have gone down, and either gone down steeply—more steeply than state averages—or stayed level with state averages, which is contrary to what a stricter dress code was meant to achieve.

There’s also been a lot of time wasted on enforcing the policy. As Katrina Townsend, the district director of student services, outlined the numbers to the board last month, she noted that the number of referrals have drained time away from teachers and other staffers—time they don’t have, especially in an abbreviated schedule denied 45 minutes a day, in middle and high schools, for the past two years, because of cost cuts.

That’s despite some reluctance among staffers to enforce the policy. “A lot of items if a teacher or a custodian or a secretary can’t fairly quickly establish does it meet policy or not,” Townsend said, “there’s some reluctance to engage the student in a situation where they’re not feeling very confident in what they’re looking for.”

Outerwear was also an issue. “It’s very difficult to enforce, and also we found ourselves in cold weather addressing students you can’t have the jacket you have on, turn it inside out or something like that,” Townsend said. And there were issues with logos. A school’s own logo on a sweatshirt was acceptable. A non-school logo was not.

That’s no longer a restriction, within reasonable bounds. Put simply: a Miller Lite beer shirt is not OK. Hollister is.

Gray had been discussed at length as an acceptable color for pants last year, it was rejected, only for the disciplinary committee to recommend its including from here on.

The evidence that was gathered about the enforcement of the dress code is what seemed to convince the board that a change was necessary—especially at a time when the district is putting a premium on teachers’ and students’ use of time.

When comparing the last year without the current dress code with the current school year, Flagler Palm Coast High School racked up more than 1,000 additional instances of dealing with students on dress code matters—from 468 incidents in the 2012 school year to 1,571 in 2013. That includes 242 warnings. The rest were actual referrals.

The jump was proportionately similar at other schools, if not larger: warnings and referrals quadrupled at Matanzas High School, to 451, they went from just five to 30 at Buddy Taylor Middle School (still a low number, suggesting that the faculty was more focused on teaching than punishing), and from 10 to 122 at Indian Trails Middle School. Elementary schools also saw huge jumps in such referrals. At Bunnell Elementary, there’d been just two such incidents before the new policy went into effect. This year, there were 220. Belle Terre and Old Kings elementaries also saw their numbers go to 154 and 75 respectively. Only Rymfire and Wadsworth Elementary did not see much of a change, likely because the administrations in those schools found better things to do than police their students’ dress.

That begged the question, which Townsend asked outright, if only rhetorically: “Why not just throw out the policy?”

The answer has more to do with the grip of new rules, which develop a life of their own, rather than with what the evidence would compel, such as a scrapping of what appears to be an irrational and counter-productive policy.

Among the reasons Townsend listed to keep the policy: first-year data is about the “implementation process,” which is another way of saying that first year data is about first year data, or that it is “the baseline” data. The district wants three years of data. Parents have already bought clothes to fit the policy, so scrapping it now would imply that it was wasted money or effort (though scrapping the policy does not necessarily mean that the clothes parents bought could not still be worn, and in many cases would not be worn much regardless, as children grow out of them relatively fast).

Another bullet point: “Staff anecdotal data that dress code seemed to impact overall ‘mood’ of school in a positive manner in regard to student behavior.” But hard evidence of that is, as always, absent. There was also mention of successful dress-code programs in other counties, though that success dates back to last year’s “evidence” gathered by board members—as in Seminole, again.

Nevertheless, while the board wasn’t about to surrender entirely, its about-face was clear from the few but significant changes it was willing to adopt, what it called an “update” to the policy at its meeting this evening.

48 Responses for “District Throws In Towel on School Uniforms, Largely Relaxing Policy For Simplicity’s Sake”

  1. Ray Thorne says:

    So how much in new clothing did this fiasco cost people who had no choice and did not really have the funds to purchase all the new clothing needed for their kids?

    • Joey says:

      Quite a bit. Going into school, I was confident my long sleeve, collared shirts would be fine. According to the teachers, they weren’t because of the color (they claimed parts of it were darker gray than the others) so I had to go out and buy 5 new polo T-shirts, and then they changed the policy for weightlifting classes, where it used to be as long as it was a T-shirt and appropriate, it was fine, to it had to be a school shirt, so I had to buy 5 more school T-shirts at outrageous prices, then they claimed my jeans had holes in them because of a small tear near the hem of the leg, leading me to have to buy new jeans. All in all I had to spend around $60 just to buy new clothes I’ll never wear.

      Adding on to that, the dress code was completely ambiguous, and left vindictive teachers the power to issue almost instant referrals with no recourse (A friend was given a referral because they claimed his polo was “Dark Navy Blue” when it was clearly black)

      The sagging rule was also irritating, as teachers were giving referrals left and right for pants that weren’t sagging at all, but they claimed it was slightly below the waist.

  2. James says:

    Get rid of it. Spend our tax dollars arguing about something worthwhile.

  3. DP says:

    It just goes to show you what/who we have running our schools. What a “JOKE” of a school board. I knew it wouldn’t last, the school administrators could barley, or would not enforce what dress code they had previously. I was against it before and still am. Now how about paying us back the extra money, that “YOU” the school board said it wouldn’t cost the family’s. Time for a school board with a focus on maintaining academics, and cutting costs.

    • kmedley says:

      Keep in mind this is the same group that is taking the position that if the referendum passes it will only cost folks about $25.00.

  4. there are three sides to every story says:

    Now get to work dealing with real issues….

  5. Seminole Pride says:

    When I was a student hear in Florida in the 70’s my High School was about a mile from the beach, so it was not unusual for me and my fellow students to come to School wearing our beach jams, tee shirts, and flip flops to school so we could hit the hit the beach after school. We even had our surf boards hanging out the back of our cars and trucks. Now you have this School Board Member John Fischer who has no ideal of what the culture and character of our State or our Students are like. This isn’t some place up North. Suggest you learn more about our lay back culture here before you make a fool of yourself, dude.

  6. Someone says:

    Yeah, I am totally going to pass tests with a collared shirt rather than a t shirt. Not. We don’t live in the century where wearing a certain shirt or pants make you smarter.

  7. MHS Graduate says:

    Just putting my “two cents” into this online pool; I am a MHS graduate who has excelled academically and extracurricularly. One who has tried to maintain good relationships with my teachers and administrators. Out of my first three years of high school, I received one referral due to tardies. In my senior year of high school, after this absurd policy was put in place, I received four referrals- ALL dress code based. Yet, there have been numerous fights, dropouts, and awful test scores coming from MHS- more than before. The administrators are too busy being concerned about a little extra fabric on the neck of a shirt (a collar) that they have little time for the more important issues. A dean told me his approximation of dress code dealings in one day. 25. Just by ONE of two deans in ONE of the 180 school days. If that isn’t a waste of time, I don’t know what is.

  8. matanzas senior 2014 says:

    honestly, teachers only focused on the policy that doesn’t eve make any sense and had no idea what to do besides writs referals. it took away from my education because I was no wearing the correct color polo. are you kidding me? you did spend our parents money and time by running to the schools to deliver their kids a different color polo. what we need to go back to, is the dress code from 2012. nothing was bad? yeah, but keep it so the county schools look bad because of the uniform.

  9. Gregory Gardner says:

    Thank goodness!! we have had to put up with this for a whole year. Finally you have gotten rid of the worst mistake in the history of flagler county schools thank you sooooooooooo much for fixing it.

  10. Gregory Gardner says:

    Make sure you follow through

  11. Amy says:

    Throwing in the towel? they only made some revisions, they didn’t get rid of uniforms! The title of this article is misleading to those who don’t actually read the story.

  12. Webster says:

    Seminole Pride: There are positives and negatives to either side of the battle. “Someone” said: “We don’t live in the century where wearing a certain shirt or pants make you smarter.” No, we don’t but we do live in a time where not having the right label on a shirt or the high dollar shoes opens you up to ridicule from those that place too much value on material objects. How many wealthy kids are picked on for their clothes? Ask that same question of poor students.

    • Seminole Pride says:

      So you think all my surfing buddies wearing our beach jams and tee shirts really cared about what label our clothes were ? I don’t think so.

  13. Magicone says:

    The Flagler County School board members need a uniform policy, one with stripes !!!

  14. Amanda says:

    Let me get this straight. There were more referrals in high school for non-compliance of the dress code. Also, high school and middle school students take EOC exams in addition to FCAT whereas elementary students only take FCAT in grades 3-6 and no EOC exams. So, lets reward the rule breakers by allowing them to wear what they want essentially, but continue a modified dress code/uniform for the younger set who followed the rules and take far fewer high-stakes tests. If the ideas behind the dress code/uniform were safety, behavior, and test scores, why force it on the younger kids, but not the older kids to whom these issues are more prominent? I really do not understand this school board at all. I think they are so afraid of admitting how wrong they were that they NEED to hold on to part of the dress code/ uniform so as not to look completely inept. This is yet one more example of the board refusing to listen to voices outside of their own.

  15. Duh says:

    Let the parents be the parents and dress their kids as they see fit. It is not he schools responsibility to make the decisions of the parents.. Spend your time and money educating our children rather than having our children in the office with referrals. The teachers themselves dress worse than the kids-adopt a dress code for them. We parents don’t have $100,000/yr jobs like so many of you that are employed by our school district do. Keep one thought in mind Educate, Educate, Educate!

    Mr. Fisher, come to your senses. Your judgement is questionable…your involvement in your wife’s crime confirms this.

  16. Pete says:

    I’m just thinking of the school hours lost on this nonsense like sending students to the dean’s office and having to call the parents. Like the teachers really need the extra burden of ensuring compliance with the dress code first thing in the morning. The School Board and the Superintendent’s Office is out of touch with reality. Families are struggling to survive and they want more money. Insensitive people!

    Vote them all out next time around.

  17. there are three sides to every story says:

    Every time Fisher opens his mouth he puts his foot in it…

  18. Amy B says:

    I believe that making our children wear school colors is adding more danger to our lives. Now if you are at Walmart after school anyone can tell what neighborhood you live in!

  19. Donna Heiss says:

    I didn’t think it was a good idea to begin with. We are all individuals as are our children. What else is the school board going to flip flop on? Hmmm, if the school school tax passes, will they decide to spend the money differently then stated? Afterall it is not written anywhere how the money will be spent. In the beginning it was for security. When taxpayers started questioning that, it was then decided they would market it by saying they would bring 45 minutes of the school day back. Which is it? It is not wise to give any school board additional funds when they cannot make decisions to begin with.

    What happened to elected officials listening to the people who elected them? Are they not our voice?

  20. L.D. Ablo says:

    Score one for sanity! Next the board should concentrate on getting a moment of science in the classroom.

  21. Anonymous says:

    As a parent of a recent graduate of our wonderful school system, I want to thank the school board for wasting my money! Do you not have enough work to do? Apparently not. You have spent way too much time on this issue. How about working on something more important like children’s education. That’s what you get paid for. Or maybe you should not be getting paid. Remove these we old goats from the board and get someone in here that actually have kids in the system.

  22. Someone 2 says:

    Why is the focus of our school board on clothing? Shouldn’t they be worrying about our academics more and focusing on improving the poor education normal classes have? Would like a strong change for that.

  23. briggid says:

    Wonder how much this cost everyone? What a joke…

  24. fla native says:

    The spoiled rotten students win again. Good bye discipline.

    • Ray Thorne says:

      The spoiled rotten students? They didn’t win so much as the school failed. There was no need for this policy and would have been less cost effective it they would have just decided to enforce what was already in place.

  25. JGionno says:

    Where is the backbone of our administration? Who exactly is running the county? Children, who undoubtedly will protest the idea or appointed respected individuals responsible for decisions directly affecting all of our children? The research is simple, dress codes, in addition to reducing costs for families, reduce the emotional turmoil children face on a daily basis simply due to the clothing they choose to wear. It is unfortunate that the school board has once again failed to uphold a positive change in the community.

    • Out of Curiosity says:

      What research is this? I could find no studies that had any conclusive findings on the effects of uniforms.

    • Don't forget says:

      This is not a communist country. It’s the parents responsibility to decide how to dress their kids. The schools responsibility is to educate our little ones. When kids turn into adults they wear what they want…school is not prison and the school board needs to remember this. Keep uniforms in the prison system.

    • FPC Student says:

      If by directly affecting children you mean being a constant annoyance with no real evidence of improving the school in any way possible and actually making the schools worse, then yeah, it directly affects them. This “simple research” you speak of does not even exist. This uniform does not reduce cost for families ( My parents have spent more on school clothes this year then any other. Do you even know how tiring it is to search for “school acceptable shirts”, or how much they even cost?) or “reduce emotional turmoil” in a teenager’s life (I have never personally been targeted by bullies because of the way I dress.). The school “uniform” is just a hassle that causes everyone problems. If the school board actually cared about fixing the schools’ problems they would get rid of this ridiculous block schedule currently in place.

  26. Anonymous says:

    They were spending to much time on the uniforms then actually teaching these children, thank god they got rid of it.

    • Maxx says:

      Nope the students won’t learn because the dress code is back on. It’s not like they did before anyways.

  27. fla native says:

    This is the most dysfunctional school board I have ever seen. Bloated salaries, school closings and ad nauseum. Other counties in Florida have school dress codes and it works flawlessly but not in Flagler County. Go figure.

  28. Justin says:

    I told everyone this would’t work.

  29. Sherry Epley says:

    Another Way of Looking at Dress Codes and School Uniforms. . . this from

    School Uniforms: Where They Are and Why They Work

    According to the US Department of Education, a safe and disciplined learning environment is the first requirement of a good school. Young people who are safe and secure, who learn basic values and the essentials of good citizenship, are better students. In response to growing levels of violence in our schools, many parents, teachers, and school officials have come to see school uniforms as one positive and creative way to reduce discipline problems and increase school safety.

    President Clinton called attention to the issue in his 1996 State of the Union address. A few school districts had been quietly experimenting with uniforms for years, but the issue caught President Clinton’s eye after the Long Beach, California school district released some numbers suggesting that after only one year, its mandatory uniform policy had not only brought about significant decreases in vandalism and fighting, but had also led to higher test scores.

    The adoption of school uniform policies can promote school safety, improve discipline, and enhance the learning environment. The potential benefits of school uniforms include:

    •decreasing violence and theft — even life-threatening situations — among students over designer clothing or expensive sneakers;
    •helping prevent gang members from wearing gang colors and insignia at school;
    •instilling students with discipline;
    •helping parents and students resist peer pressure;
    •helping students concentrate on their school work; and
    •helping school officials recognize intruders who come to the school.

    Please remember that schools should be teaching future generations how to fit into and be successful in the professional international work place, as well as the sciences and higher mathmatics. “Dressing for Success” should also be a part of that formula. But then again, I forgot. . . it unfortunately is the entitled kids that run the schools.

    • Nancy N. says:

      The Long Beach case study has long since been debunked. Several other major changes took place in the school district at the same time (such as increased teacher presence in hallways between classes) that are almost certainly responsible for the improvement in conditions in the schools.

  30. r&r says:

    Someone 2. If the board has to change and work on education issues we have to change out the board and elect people that have the children and education in mind.. Not their egos and wallets…

  31. Donna Heiss says:

    @ fla native. I am going to go out on a limb here. You post of discipline. Do you think it is the school boards job to discipline the kids? I think it starts at home. Too often I see parents with no time for children. Not all of these parents have full time jobs. It is our first duty and responsibility as parents to raise our children into productive, caring, respectful adults. We teach them creativity, individualism, compassion and to strive for higher goals. The school is not responsible for lack of parenting.

    With that said, I taught my children that with hard work and commitment they could become secure in their future. This started at an early age. The clothing worn by other children helped. Of course my children wanted to wear designer clothing. I taught them how to save to get it. Each piece of clothing they purchased with their own money, they were very proud of. This continues today as they are now adults. One built their own house at the age of 21 and married at 24. The other takes very good care of a rental property and was married recently at 28 and paid off her car. Both have very nice things that they work very hard for while continuing to give back to the community. Neither are ready to start a family until they are secure in their future.

    To sum it up. Teach children goals, morals, financial responsibility, compassion and the desire to reach higher standards.This will spill over into the classroom and to other children as well. It has nothing to do with wearing a solid color polo shirt and everything to do with what they learn at home.

  32. hiredtekneck says:

    i guess the school board doesnt have the testicular fortitude to enforce a small rule…..looks like the brats win–again…..

  33. Maxx says:

    Actually the students have to wear a collared shirt again. So all the parents and students have to scrape up some extra money and buy new clothes because the school board keeps changing the dress code. It would be nice if the teachers had to wear something appropriate as well. Like not dress like a gal from a PlayBoy magazine. I don’t understand why the teachers don’t get in trouble for wearing a skirt that is 4 inches…. 4 inches from their bums and showing their cleavage! Aren’t they representing the school too? Shouldn’t they dress with a little class? or at least wear underwear while sitting on a desk with a short skirt on. Students are breaking the rules because the teachers don’t have any. Students aren’t allowed to chew gum in class but then the teacher is standing in front of the them chewing like a cow!

    Punishing the student for not wearing a collared shirt and giving them detention isn’t teaching them anything. There is students who get detention for weeks because they didn’t wear a collared shirt. You know what that is doing? Giving the student an opportunity to slack off and skip class. How is that a punishment? My as well give them free candy and an A+ for the semester because its not doing them good anyways. The collared shirts were “suppose” to raise grades and keep students focus in school. Just today students in a chemistry class failed the final. Every student failed but you know what the teacher did? The teacher took the highest F and marked it as an A so everybody passed. Yeah, the collared shirts are doing the students justice. Not.

  34. Tori says:

    I don’t understand why all of these adults are calling us brats. We are going to school, we have high test scores and we don’t like uniforms. Big whoop! I don’t think what you wear changes how we act, I mean this year we had more issues than ever before! We had a “rape” on campus, bomb threats, school shooting threats, multiple fights including one that made a cop have to taze a student! Listen, we really arent bad kids. You can’t base a whole school off of a few bad eggs and stupid decisons. Did all of you adults like school growing up? No? Well neither do we but we need it to succeed in life (in most cases). Why can’t we dress how WE want to. Yes, it is school and that shouldnt be our main focus. But making this stupid policy does that! Last year I woke up and threw on something comfy and if I was in the mood id dress up. Why should I be deprived of sweatpants if im having some ‘lady issues’ and jeans just don’t feel comfortable all the time. Kids intelligence is not going to be boosted by wearing a shirt with a collar on it. The whole situation is stupid. We can dress nice without being trashy or looking like we go to some private school (which we don’t). Oh and I think its BS to take a kid out of class for not wearing a uniform. It creates a hassle and its a waste of everyones time.

  35. Nancy N. says:

    I tried to tell the board based on my own previous personal experience that this would be the result but they were so bent on jumping on the bandwagon of this latest trendy educational fad that they wouldn’t hear it.

    I am REALLY angry that my family has been made to expend large amounts of money (and stress – it’s very difficult to find uniform clothing for a special needs child with motor skill issues) on clothing for last year that we would not have were it not for this little “experiment”. I have better things to do with my time, money, and energy.

  36. Nancy N. says:

    I just read the new policy. The article didn’t note that the color restrictions are only being thrown out for the high school students and that collars are still required. This isn’t actually that huge of a revision and I think it’s a stretch to say the high school kids can go back mostly to what they wore before because I don’t know a single high school kid that would voluntarily wear a shirt that would comply with this code, even the “relaxed” version. And why are the K-8 parents still being made to jump through color hoops that are deemed too difficult for the older students to comply with? After all, the ENTIRE justification that was given as the groundwork for this policy was bad dress code behavior by the high school kids – so now the dress code is being made the most restrictive for the younger kids? That makes NO SENSE. Thanks for nothing, school board. All you just gave me is a few more color options for her bottoms and (maybe) a few more options for her sweatshirts (although that isn’t clear from the wording because it still says they must be solid color).

    • FlaglerLive says:

      Nancy, the article does specify, in the third paragraph, that the relaxed rules do not apply to middle and elementary schools, where the policy has not been as much of an issue. As to the larger point: the policy for high school students has been reduced to, essentially, no t-shirts.

      • Nancy N. says:

        My bad, you are correct, sorry. I had been traveling all day to get home from Ohio and after two plane rides and some long car rides I got a bit cross-eyed while trying to get caught up on my local news. :(

  37. Grford says:

    Okay first of all a collared shirt and shorts or pants of a suitable color cost no more than a trashy shirt and pants that do not fit. Uniforms were not what was asked pants with a belt and a collared shirt of a multiple of colors. Outer ware made simple where your schools sweatshirt not something that was out of the ordinary.

    We as a community saw a difference, it has been proven that children and adults have a lower fighting or behavior problem when they are in appropriate clothing. No does that mean no issues for goodness sakes no but less is best. So if color is the problem fine colored collared shirts with no gravity or group related issues
    Simple solid colors pants or shorts simple tan black or blue normal for any business casual attire belt necessary to prevent underware for. Showing, see thru tops for anyone not acceptable simple clear and for goodness sakes why is it so hard? No holes are needed no showing of underware should be acceptable are we not suppose to be PREPARRING these students for the future? Why are we trying to make this more difficult then it needs to be? We all have rules, standards, acceptable behavior to live by are our students not worth preparing them for the REAL world.

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