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Bringing Queenie home

SEBRING — Queenie Roux planned to move to the Atlanta area more than a year ago, before the pandemic hit and things changed. Instead of giving up on that plan, she got a job, learned to drive, bought a car and provided for her six children.

She made that trip to Atlanta on Tuesday with plans to start her life anew, wanting better for herself and her young children. She had found an organization that helps single moms get a new start, find a job and find a place to live.

One day later, on Wednesday, Queenie and her 3-year-old daughter Queen, named after her, were killed in an automobile crash in Atlanta.

Her family back here in Sebring have brought the surviving children home and are now sadly planning the final arrangements for the expectant mother and one of her daughters.

Family and friends will gather at 6:30 p.m. today at Citrus Terrace Apartments for a pink and yellow balloon release in memory of Queenie and Queen. An account has been set up in the name of Robbin Smith and Louise Roux at First Southern Bank on Center Avenue to help cover medical and funeral expenses.

Robbin Smith, Queenie’s aunt, said Queenie and her brother were raised by Robbin’s mother, with their father not too far away here in Sebring.

“She went to school until the 12th grade but she wanted to explore the world,” Smith said of her niece, who she described as feisty. “She got into a lot of little issues, but she really grew up this past year during the pandemic. Her kids were her life; she always kept them up.”

Her aunt recalls how Queenie also loved to sing gospel songs.

Smith said Queenie made it to Atlanta Tuesday night at which time she made a video posted on social media.

Smith said no one knows what she was doing Wednesday at the time of the accident. She believes she may have been going to the facility that was the catalyst for making the move.

“She wanted more for her children and for herself. She wanted a fresh start. She had matured so much in the past year. She had her own place here and her job. I thought she had forgotten about Atlanta, but instead she had been steadily working toward the goal of moving there,” she said.

Smith said their names fit them well. “Queenie was a queen. She liked to dress nice. She stepped out correct and was very fashionable. Little Queen was going to be just like her,” she said.

Meanwhile, investigators with the Clayton County Police Department in Georgia are still trying to determine how two sedans, a Toyota and a Nissan, ended up in a fatal wreck on Wednesday. The crash took place at 12:23 p.m., Clayton Police officials said, on Interstate 75 northbound at Forest Parkway, Exit 237.

Of the six people in Queenie’s car, Clayton Police said, four were ejected in the collision, including Queen.

Police said the scene was approximately 500 feet before entering a construction zone where crews are rebuilding and repaving an exit ramp, but not in the construction zone itself. The accident investigation had I-75 shut down for three hours at a point just 10 miles from the center of the city.

KLC gets KO'd for K classes

SEBRING — It’s official, starting with the 2022-23 school year, the Kindergarten Learning Center won’t have regular kindergarten classes.

The School Board of Highlands County has unanimously approved returning the KLC students to their zoned schools beginning in 2022-23.

The former supermarket was renovated more than 15 years ago to have classes for kindergarten students from Fred Wild, Cracker Trail and Woodlawn elementary schools.

The building could become a pre-kindergarten center or, with renovation, could serve as a location for some departments from the District Office.

At a June 1 workshop, the School Board discussed the possible sites that the district offices could be relocated – including the Kindergarten Learning Center and the former JCPenney building at the Lakeshore Mall.

At the workshop, Superintendent Brenda Longshore said there is great interest from the elementary school principals to get their kindergarteners back to their campus. Fred Wild Elementary would not need any portables to do that. Cracker Trail would need one more portable and Woodlawn Elementary would need one or two portables if the kindergarten classes returned.

The students at the Kindergarten Leaning Center are losing about 40 to 45 minutes a day in instruction time due to their amount of time in transportation. Those who ride a bus are first transported to their zoned elementary school in the morning and then take a bus to the Kindergarten Learning Center. The process is reversed in the afternoon.

Longshore said the Kindergarten Learning Center could be used for the Sebring elementary schools’ VPK/pre-kindergarten classes including migrant pre-K, pre-K ESE and the district’s growing voluntary pre-kindergarten program.

At the workshop, Kindergarten Learning Center Principal Karen Doty said she loves her school and loves her teachers and students. She believes the staff prepares students the best they can. Then the students go back to their feeder schools and that is hard because you get to know them and you get to know the students’ families.

After the 15 years of existence of the Kindergarten Learning Center, nobody thought there would be a change for the KLC, but staff knows there has been talk about it for years about what to do with the KLC, she said.

“But, with that being said, it is an ideal situation for that school in particular to become a feeder school for the K-5 schools,” Doty said. “It just makes sense.”

Woodlawn Elementary Principal Jon Spencer said he has been at Woodlawn long enough to remember when the kindergarten classes were there and it became “portable city” because of overcrowding. There is a kickball field there now where portables used to be so he understands that aspect of it as well.

But, he also thinks about people and believes the Kindergarten Learning Center did a wonderful job of preparing students before they went to Woodlawn, he said. He also knows that with kindergarten through fifth-grade at a single school, there is power when students are with you longer.

The School Board has yet to decide how the Kindergarten Learning Center will be utilized after the kindergarten classes conclude there at the end of the 2021-22 school year.

State sees increase in COVID cases

The Florida Department of Health released its weekly COVID-19 report on Friday and the numbers show a swing in the wrong direction. FDOH reported the state with 11,873 new resident cases for the seven-day period of June 18-24, an increase of 1,361 from the 10,512 new cases reported last week. Non-resident cases are no longer counted by FDOH.

The state’s positivity rate increased from 3.3% to 3.8%, breaking a nine-week run that saw a lower positivity rate than was seen the previous week.

The state reported 44 new deaths, although the total deaths of 37,712 is 217 higher than the cumulative total of 37,555 that was reported last Friday. This is typically due to previous deaths just now being classified as COVID-19 deaths.

Highlands County saw an increase of 35 cases for the seven-day stretch, which brings the total to 8,776 resident cases. The county’s positivity rate was 3.9%, which is higher than the 3.0% seen last week and the 2.6% of the preceding week. The county had added 26 new cases in each of the last two weeks, so a slight increase in new cases.

There were 346 vaccines given in the county, continuing a downward trend that has seen Highlands County see a decrease in vaccines each of the last three weeks. There were 406 vaccines given the previous week.

Miami-Dade saw the most new cases in the past week, with 2,231, but had a positivity rate of 2.8%. Broward County was the only other county in the state with more than 1,000 new cases at 1,187.

The state also saw fewer vaccines given, as there were 281,042 given in the state, well down from the 373,438 that were reported last week and the 413,880 that were reported on June 11.

The state shows 57% of Florida residents 12 and older vaccinated, with the seniors making up the highest percentages of those who have received shots. Those 65 and over have seen 83% vaccinated, while the 60 to 64 age group has seen 63% of the people receive vaccinations. The 12 to 19 age group has seen 28% receive vaccinations.

Florida’s vaccination trends mirror those found in the United States, as the numbers have been steadily declining.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there have been 178.49 million people in the U.S. to have received at least one dose of the vaccine, which is 53.8% of the population and 65.8% of the U.S. adult population. There have been 151,615,554 people declared fully vaccinated, which means they have received both doses of the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines or one shot of the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

The U.S. has averaged 816,831 vaccine doses per day over the past week. At the current rate it will take an additional six months to reach the targeted goal of vaccinating 75% of the population.

Globally, there have been 2.8 billion doses given and countries are averaging roughly 42.6 million doses per day. The 2.8 billion doses is enough to fully vaccinate 18.3% of the world population.

Johns Hopkins University is reporting the U.S. with a total of 33,597,426 cases and 603,442 deaths.

Globally, there have been 180,156,623 cases and 3.90 million deaths.

Inside today

Included in today’s edition of the Highlands News-Sun is a combined Love Your Locals and Hiring Locals section. Please be sure to check it out.