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Bill lands on Charlie Baker’s desk to prevent ‘lunch shaming’



Bill lands on Charlie Baker’s desk to prevent ‘lunch shaming’

The practice of “lunch shaming,” when a cafeteria worker is forced to toss out a student’s hot lunch if they can’t pay and give them a cold sandwich, could soon be a relic of the past.

A bill that would eliminate the practice — including banning a student from extracurricular activities for having lunch debt — is now sitting on Gov. Charlie Baker’s desk.

“We want to make this an adult-only conversation,” said Patricia Baker, senior policy advocate at the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute. “No parent wants their child put in the middle of any kind of debt or used to embarrass them in front of their peers with unpaid meal debt.”

The bill would also require schools in which over 60% of students’ families are eligible for free meals to use federal funds for free meals for all students, regardless of income. Currently, just over 100 districts in the state participate in this program at either the district or school level, according to a Project Bread blog post.

“When you have an entire school or an entire district providing school meals, it just changes things,” said Project Bread CEO Erin McAleer. “More kids participate because of reduced stigma, and more kids participating brings in more federal reimbursement.”

Boston Public Schools has provided free meals for students for a decade thanks to its participation in a federal pilot program. BPS Executive Director of Food and Nutrition Services Laura Benavidez said that in past districts she’s worked in, she’s seen hungry students unable to concentrate, and heard of teachers buying food for students with their own money.

Now, “if you want to come and eat, you get to eat at no cost,” she said. “We’re not asking (students) for anything, we’re actually giving them something.”

Rebecca Wood advocated for, and got, a universal free meals program in Revere when she was a single parent there last year. Although she didn’t qualify for reduced meals, both she and her daughter have “astronomical” medical bills, making the $600 she spent a year on lunch a financial burden.

“I would go without medicine, or I would worry about clothing for her or something like that,” she said. “When we started getting the free school lunches, it gave me some breathing room in my budget. I wasn’t forced to make as many hard decisions.”

Merrie Najimy, president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association, called food insecurity an outcome of “the lack of investment in the public good, and no parent, caregiver or child should be blamed or shamed for it,” and advocated for universal free school lunch.

She called it “inhumane” to make cafeteria workers take hot lunches from children’s hands, as some districts have had them do. She’s “forcefully encouraging Governor Baker to do the right thing and do what’s best for kids, and sign this bill into law,” she said.

State Rep. Andres Vargas, D-Haverhill, who filed the bill in the House, noted in a statement that Massachusetts experienced “the largest relative increase of food-insecure individuals in the nation” at the start of the pandemic. He called the bill “commonsense,” noting its unanimous support in the House.

State Sen. Cindy Creem, D-Newton, who filed the Senate version of the bill, said that the higher reimbursement rates now mean a failure to act “would be a huge missed opportunity to prevent hunger among school-aged children in Massachusetts. With food insecurity on the rise, we shouldn’t be leaving federal dollars on the table.” She added that she was “appalled” when she learned about the lunch-shaming practices happening in Massachusetts.

Baker has until Oct. 16 to sign the bill, but a spokesperson gave no indication as to whether he supports it. Currently, all students nationwide are able to receive free meals through next summer thanks to an extension of a U.S. Department of Agriculture program.

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Can supersonic air travel fly again?



Can supersonic air travel fly again?

By Roy Furchgott, The New York Times Company

Despite the promise of two-hour flights from New York to Los Angeles, the supersonic airline industry never really got off the ground. That is largely because of physics: specifically, the sonic boom, the thunderclap noise made when an aircraft breaks the sound barrier, which essentially doomed supersonic aviation as a viable business.

In 1960s-era tests, booms reportedly broke windows, cracked plaster and knocked knickknacks from shelves; in 1973, the Federal Aviation Administration forbade civilian supersonic aircraft from flying over land. Planes could go supersonic only over the ocean — most famously, the Concorde, the sleek British-French passenger plane that flew a handful of routes in less than half the average time. But potentially lucrative overland routes were off-limits, restricting supersonic travel’s business prospects.

NASA and aviation entrepreneurs, however, are working to change that, with new aircraft designed to turn the boom into a “sonic thump” that is no louder than a car door being slammed 20 feet away. That may induce the FAA to lift the ban, which could allow for two-hour coast-to-coast supersonic flights.

“The main reason NASA is working on this is to enable regulation for supersonic flight,” said Craig Nickol, NASA’s low-boom flight demonstration project manager. “The main objective is to open up new markets.”

The supersonic age dawned Oct. 14, 1947, when Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier while piloting the rocket-powered Bell X-1 over the Mojave Desert. In the following decades, the barrier was also broken by a succession of military jets, once by a passenger airliner (during a test flight of a Douglas DC-8 in 1961) and, ultimately, by regular commercial service from the Soviet Tupolev Tu-144 and the Concorde, both long defunct.

The far more successful Concorde mostly traveled trans-Atlantic routes at about $6,000 to $7,000 per ticket for a 3 1/2 hour flight in a cramped, noisy cabin, which was nonetheless considered glamorous. The Champagne-and-caviar flights were discontinued in 2003 after 27 years of intermittent profitability and one crash that killed 113 people. What the Concorde’s chief pilot called “the airliner of the future” was consigned to the past.

But the possibility of a supersonic renaissance was arriving even as the Concorde was on its way out. The slide rules and log tables used to design it had been pushed aside by supercomputers, which enabled engineers to test and tweak virtual aircraft designs comparatively cheaply and quickly.

That is exactly what DARPA, the research and development wing of the U.S. Defense Department, and NASA did in 2003 with the Shaped Sonic Boom Experiment, which confirmed that computer-designed modifications to a Northrop F-5E jet would hush the sonic boom in the way the software forecasted.

“We flew it and measured it, and our model predicted the boom very well,” Nickol said. “It was the first time we could prove that we could shape the sonic boom in a way we could predict.” That demonstration set the course for research to follow.

Taming the boom is complicated. Air has substance, which an aircraft slices through, much as a boat moves through water. A plane pushes air aside as it flies, creating ripples of air pressure. As an aircraft approaches the speed of sound, pressure builds up on surfaces like the nose and tail, creating waves of high pressure in front and low pressure behind. At the speed of sound, waves pile up and combine to reach the ground as an abrupt change in pressure that is heard as that thunderclap sound.

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CDOT’s Safety Patrol works to clear highway crashes as quickly as possible to keep traffic moving



CDOT’s Safety Patrol works to clear highway crashes as quickly as possible to keep traffic moving

The crash that hit Interstate 225 in Aurora at the height of the evening rush hour was garden-variety: A sedan smashed into the back of a sport-utility vehicle, and nobody was hurt.

But the wreck quickly backed up northbound traffic all the same, with the heavily damaged Toyota Camry stuck, its engine dead, in one of the middle lanes near Colfax Avenue.

John “Boston” Alborghetti knew just what to do. Arriving before police, the CDOT Safety Patrol driver first checked to make sure no one was hurt. Then he used his specially outfitted Ford F-250 pickup to nudge the Camry over to the shoulder, where it joined the Jeep that had been hit.

Traffic was moving in all four lanes within five minutes.

Patrollers in the Colorado Department of Transportation’s roadside assistance program have kept tabs on a growing network of metro Denver and Colorado highways for 29 years, offering free help to stranded motorists while assisting authorities at crash scenes. The Safety Patrol recently added new routes in metro Denver to its network and signed up a new sponsor, the Geico insurance company, which will contribute $550,000 a year toward the program’s $6.5 million budget, CDOT says.

Alborghetti’s response on I-225 on the recent Monday evening prioritized safety and speed, since a quicker clearance of the highway lessens the chances for another crash. He left broken glass and debris on the pavement, but the people involved in the crash were safely on the shoulder.

“If (the stalled car) was in the left lane or right lane — not in the middle — I would have kept the lane shut down with my cones and I would have swept the debris up,” said Alborghetti, 50, a no-nonsense Army Reservist with a Boston accent whose nickname was inspired by his upbringing there.

“But people just want to go — I want to open it up quick and fast, get people going.”

Safety Patrol drivers don’t investigate crashes or issue tickets, but they do help responding state troopers and police officers with traffic control and safety. They also can clear most anything that’s blocking the highway, whether it’s a car, a large appliance that’s fallen off a truck — or even an 18-wheeler, which takes two Safety Patrol drivers working in tandem, Alborghetti said.

For three years, he’s been the operational manager for IncidentClear, CDOT’s Safety Patrol contractor. Its drivers assist more than 40,000 motorists a year, CDOT says, between crash responses and helping drivers who need a flat tire changed, a jump-start, extra fuel or lockout assistance.

When needed, the program’s towing partner provides free tows to safe, well-lit locations off the highway.

Eli Imadali, Special to The Denver Post

Boston Alborghetti, a CDOT Safety Patrol driver, buckles his seat-belt after helping two drivers involved in a crash on I-70 in Denver during his evening shift driving on Monday, Nov. 8, 2021.

“We see accidents happen right in front of us”

Alborghetti was joined by a Denver Post reporter and photographer on that Monday in early November as he drove nearly 100 miles of metro Denver highways in three and a half hours.

As Alborghetti drove, he kept an eye out for collisions and for vehicles pulled over on the shoulders.

“So as I’m looking, I’m not only looking at this side (of the highway), I’m looking at that side, too,” he said as he neared the Sixth Avenue exit on Interstate 25 near downtown. “Because an accident may happen before CDOT or everybody else knows about it. We see accidents happen right in front of us.”

The afternoon had started quietly. Alborghetti’s first stop was on Interstate 70 near Sheridan Boulevard, where officers were responding to a car traveling the wrong direction in the eastbound lanes. He stopped in the left lane, his truck’s yellow emergency lights flashing, and placed cones to block it off for extra safety.

The driver turned out to be an older man who entered on the wrong ramp. By then, he’d pulled over on the inside shoulder and was talking with the officers. Alborghetti said they asked family members to come and drive the man home.

A half-hour later, while driving on I-25 near University Boulevard, Alborghetti spotted police and a CDOT incident management crew on the other side of the highway. He exited and turned back. They were managing traffic for a food truck that was stranded and blocking the right lane after its back axel busted, throwing the wheels out of alignment.

But this time, there was nothing for him to do, since the truck was upright and couldn’t move on its tires. If it had overturned and “it’s sitting out there, then boom! We will push it,” he said. Instead, Denver police called in a flatbed truck.

Boston Alborghetti, a CDOT Safety Patrol ...

Eli Imadali, Special to The Denver Post

Boston Alborghetti, a CDOT Safety Patrol driver, walks at the scene of a food truck spin-out on I-25 in Denver on Monday, Nov. 8, 2021.

New patrols added on I-270, I-76

The Safety Patrol has nearly two dozen trucks stocked with equipment, extra gas and cleanup materials. Its drivers patrol interstates 25, 70 and 225 as well as the Sixth Avenue Freeway and C-470 in the Denver area; stretches of I-25 near Colorado Springs and Fort Collins; and I-70 in the mountains between Golden and Vail.

In mid-November, the Safety Patrol added new regular patrols on interstates 76 and 270 in metro Denver.

Most shifts cover the morning and evening rush hours, but some Safety Patrol drivers roam the highways during off-peak hours and on weekends, especially on the I-70 mountain stretch. They operate everywhere except construction zones, which have their own safety crews.

“I really want to tell people,” Alborghetti said, that “if you see one of our trucks … move out of the way — because there is something hindering and stopping you from going home to your family, going to work, going out on a hot date or something,” and the Safety Patrol can get traffic moving again.

The Navy veteran lives in Castle Rock and now is in the Army Reserves. He said his most recent deployment was in the last year at the U.S. military’s detention camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. He worked in security at Lockheed Martin’s Jefferson County campus, he said, before joining IncidentClear and the Safety Patrol.

Five years from retirement, he says he enjoys overseeing the patrol crews, while driving routes himself occasionally.

It’s a job that brings gratitude from the people helped by the patrol drivers. But the job also comes with its share of dangers, despite extensive training aimed at minimizing safety risks while working in traffic. Safety Patrol drivers also might be the first ones to arrive at a fatal crash scene — an incident that’s more likely to shut down a highway while it’s sorted out.

The drivers’ pay starts at $18 an hour and increases by $1 each year, Alborghetti said, with drivers eligible for safety bonuses.

For some, the variety is appealing. Drivers see similar patterns of crashes and roadside breakdowns, but each day brings a reshuffled deck — with winter storms throwing an extra wildcard into the mix.

“What’s today, Monday?” Alborghetti said, noting it had been relatively tame. “It’s a free-for-all on Fridays.”

Boston Alborghetti, a CDOT Safety Patrol ...

Eli Imadali, Special to The Denver Post

Boston Alborghetti, a CDOT Safety Patrol driver, fills out a report after responding to a wrong-way driver on I-70 in Arvada on Monday, Nov. 8, 2021.

Reducing the risk of more crashes

The quiet afternoon would soon give way to a flurry of radio traffic after 5 p.m., as rush-hour traffic grew denser.

But before that happened, Alborghetti talked about how the Safety Patrol responds to crashes. There’s a reason the drivers move quickly, with the program touting an average clearance time of less than 12 minutes.

As traffic backs up and drivers slam on the brakes, each minute brings a greater risk of another crash.

Alborghetti took the ramp from C-470 back onto I-70 as the sun was setting. He passed the stretch in Lakewood where the driver of a runaway semitrailer crashed into stopped traffic in April 2019, setting off a fiery chain-reaction pileup involving 28 vehicles. Four people died, and the driver recently was convicted of vehicular homicide.

The tragedy was a secondary crash, Alborghetti pointed out: That traffic was stopped because of a less-severe crash involving a car, a semitrailer and a school bus that happened five miles up the highway in Wheat Ridge about an hour earlier.

Clearing that one was more complicated than a fender-bender. But he said the time it took prompted hindsight discussions within CDOT and the Safety Patrol that underlined the importance of clearing most crashes quickly, to lessen the traffic backup.

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Broncos’ message entering division-heavy final stretch to season: Why not us?



Broncos’ message entering division-heavy final stretch to season: Why not us?

Rewarded with multi-year contracts days apart during the Broncos’ bye week, receivers Courtland Sutton and Tim Patrick spent several minutes last Monday expressing gratitude for the organization’s faith in them and recounting the personal adversity they’ve overcome.

The talk then pivoted to the state of the Broncos entering Sunday’s game against the Los Angeles Chargers.

The Broncos are 5-5 and five of their seven remaining games are against AFC West competition. The message from Sutton and Patrick: Why not us?

“If we take care of (the last seven games), we’ll get that (playoff) taste,” Sutton said. “It’s hard to even put into words how bad we want that and how bad we want that for us, the team and the city. It’s been way overdue for the city to be able to have a playoff game here and the Broncos in the playoffs.”

Said Patrick: “Everything is right in front of us. We have five division games left. We win those and we’re in the playoffs. It’s very possible.”

Sutton is right — a real playoff pursuit has been lacking around these parts since winning the Super Bowl in 2015.

And Patrick is right — if the Broncos take advantage of their division-heavy schedule, they will snap their five-year postseason drought.

The Broncos, however, will need a major course correction to be in the division and/or wild card conversation when mid-December rolls around. A couple of facts to consider:

  • Dating back to last year, they have lost five consecutive division games (outscored 144-99), tied for the team’s third-longest slump since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger and the longest since a six-game streak in 2010-11.
  • Since the start of the 2016 season, the Broncos are a woeful 10-21 in AFC West games, worst in the division by 2 1/2 games. Kansas City is 27-5 (two eight-game winning streaks) followed by Las Vegas (14-19) and the Chargers (13-19).

Overall, Denver must play better at home. The Broncos are 21-24 at Mile High since the start of 2016, including 2-3 this year in which they were favored in each game.

“All three of them are really good teams,” coach Vic Fangio said of the Chiefs (7-4), Chargers (6-4) and Raiders (6-5). “Good offenses and good defenses. Kansas City’s playing really good defense now. The Chargers and Raiders have stepped it up defensively. I see complete teams that are led by really good quarterbacks.”

Is the season on the line Sunday? Absolutely.

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