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School district to provide free meals during extra week off

SEBRING — The School Board of Highlands County will be providing a free meal drive-through service for those under 18 starting March 23 at seven of its elementary schools.

At the same time, both the School District and South Florida State College are preparing to offer online instruction

Superintendent Brenda Longshore provided an update Monday on the School District’s response to coronavirus.

“I want you to know we are listening to your questions and concerns and we are working diligently to address all of the issues that are facing school districts across the state and nation.

“For all of us, there are still many answers unknown, and even the answers we have today are subject to change based on directives and recommendations from the Center for Disease Control (CDC), Florida Department of Education, and Florida Department of Health.”

All school-related extra-curricular events are cancelled through Sunday, March 29, Longshore said. This is subject to change upon receiving further guidance from the CDC, the Florida Department of Education, and the Florida Department of Health.

“We know that meals provided at school are a staple for many children in our community,” Longhsore said.

The district will be providing free meals through a drive-through service to anyone under 18 years of age at the following locations: Avon Elementary, Fred Wild Elementary, Lake Country Elementary, Lake Placid Elementary, Park Elementary, Sun ‘n Lake Elementary and Woodlawn Elementary.

The meal service hours are as follows:

• Meals will be served on weekdays beginning Monday, March 23.

• Meals will be served from 10 a.m. until 1 p.m.

• Two meals will be provided together: lunch for the current day and breakfast for the following day

Private school or home-school students 18 and under are also welcome to participate in the feeding program for those in need.

Longshore stated, “At this point, we are hoping to be back in regular school session on Monday, March 30, upon the end of the two-week school closure. If we are directed to remain closed beyond that period, we have a plan in place to provide virtual instruction to students in grades K-12.”

The plan includes curriculum content, technology needs and mechanisms for addressing internet access, she said.

“We will implement our next steps once we have a clearer picture from the Department of Education as to school opening,” Longshore said.

The State Department of Education has delayed testing by two weeks, she said. “We will keep you updated on any changes to this as we are notified.”

To prevent the spread of the coronavirus, every school district in the state is extending spring break for an extra week upon the recommendation of Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran. Most districts are on spring break this week and will be closed the week after that, returning March 30.

Deputy Superintendent Andrew Lethbridge said teachers are off this week, but many district and school administrators are working this week.

“We have been already, prior to this, continuing to fine tune and working toward the possibility if we have to end up going for virtual instruction,” he said.

District Transportation Director Willie Hills said the whole district is doing a deep cleaning on all of the environments.

“What we are doing with our buses, we are sanitizing the seats, handrails, stuff that we normally do anyway,” he said.

South Florida State College is preparing to offer its classes online.

SFSC Vice President for Academic Affairs and Student Services Sid Valentine said Monday, “As SFSC prepares to transition courses online, the college recognizes that this may present a unique set of challenges for programs, which have a significant lab component and/or a work-based clinical requirement.

“Furthermore, SFSC recognizes that some individuals may not have access to computers and/or internet services during this time and we will be leaving library services operational at each campus location to address this need.

“I will be working with the deans in each of the divisions, and across campus locations, to ensure that these challenges will be surmounted in a manner that meets both the needs of the faculty as well as the students.”

When faculty and staff return on Monday, March 23, they will be working to transition their courses to online instruction, he said. These courses will commence on Monday, March 30.

2020 Best of Highlands Awards a success

SEBRING — Just like voting in today’s presidential preference primary, readers cast their ballots for 2019 Best of Highlands Awards a few months ago. The annual banquet and award ceremony was held at Seven Sebring Raceway Hotel on Saturday night. Tickets sold out fast for the event as over 350 people dressed to the nines to find out who the winners were.

Vice President and Group Publisher for D-R Media Tim Smolarick was the emcee for the evening. Erin Sena belted out an a capella version of “This Girl is on Fire” to kick off the special event. A delicious meal and dessert was served as friends caught up with each other and made new acquaintances.

The moment everyone awaited came with the presentation of the coveted Best of Highlands awards. Some 200 plaques were awarded to business leaders who have provided products and services in support of the community.

“The Highlands News-Sun thinks it is important that our readers play an active role in the selection of the ‘Best’ in Highlands County,” Smolarick said. “We continue to do this huge undertaking each year because it is important for local businesses to know that they are most appreciated by our readers for going above and beyond the expectations of our readers. Additionally these folks who work so hard every day, deserve a night of recognition and we feel we are delivering as we keep outgrowing venues.”

One of the most prestigious and highly sought-after awards is the Best Business of the Year award and it was awarded to Chen Dental.

“We look at several factors when we select the business of the year award. Chen Dental’s active role in the community was the factor that pushed them to the top of the list this year,” Smolarick said.

“It’s an honor to receive the 2019 Business of the Year Award from the community,” Dr. William Chen said. “ Our team is grateful for the recognition and looks forward to serving Highlands County and the surrounding areas. We are committed to supporting the level of care that we know our community deserves, We thank you again and will continue to work alongside many of the other businesses recognized that night.”

For the second year in a row, the large trophy for Most Enthusiastic, was given to The Manor at Lake Jackson. The pom-poms and kazoos and cheers made it evident why the memory care staff was chosen for the award.

“By far, the highlight of this night was the attendance. Our attendees were both warm and gracious and as always very enthusiastic as we progressed through the night,” Smolarick said. “This awards banquet won’t soon be forgotten.”

Presidential Preference Primary will carry on today

SEBRING — Keep calm and vote today on the Presidential Preference Primary. According to Highlands County Supervisor of Election Penny Ogg, extra safety precautions are being taken to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

“We have provided cleaning supplies and sanitizers,” Ogg said. “The election workers will be cleaning more than the standard protocol.”

During a time when many are concerned about contracting and/spreading the respiratory virus, Ogg said people can be proactive.

“People can bring their own items with them,” Ogg said. “They can bring their own pens as long as they are blue and black to fill out the ballots. If they want to wear gloves or a mask, they can do that.”

Personal hygiene such as coughing into an elbow and using hand sanitizer.

There are several precinct locations throughout the county. They are listed at votehighlands.com. Residents can enter their address in the “Where do I vote?” tab under “precinct info” on the home page.

Mail-in ballots and early voting have been completed.

As of March 16 at 1:30 p.m., 13.50% of the registered voters in the county have completed their voting. The Supervisor of Elections office website shows 6,388 people voted by mail and 1,967 took advantage of the early voting.

More local events canceled, changed

As the novel coronavirus, more commonly referred to as COVID-19, continues to spread across the nation and the state, more events have been canceled as people take precautionary actions. Some events have been postponed and others have been canceled. Some meetings or events are just being changed in the way they are presented.

In addition to the previously listed events that have been canceled or postponed are the following:

  • The Heartland Regional Transportation Planning Organization (HRTPO) Technical Advisory Committee Meeting scheduled for Wednesday, March 18 will still take place, but members and guests are encouraged to attend via teleconference. Join the meeting from your computer, tablet or smartphone: https://www.gotomeet.me/cfrpc/hrtpo-technical-advisory-committee. You can also dial in using your phone, 646-749-3122 using access code: 179-710-813. The Citizens Advisory Committee Meeting scheduled for Thursday, March 26 will still take place, but members and guests are encouraged to attend via teleconference. Join the meeting from your computer, tablet or smartphone: https://global.gotomeeting.com/join/652523141. You can also dial in using your phone, 872-240-3311 using access code: 652-523-141. Any member that attends via teleconference will be counted as present and have the ability to vote on action items.
  • The Town of Lake Placid will close its sports complex. The park will remain closed until at least April 14. If at that time council reevaluates and deems it safe to reopen the facility it will be opened and a new letter will be sent out. Until that time all use of the facility is not permitted.
  • After announcing last week that the Children’s Museum of the Highlands
  • would be open for spring break, the board has made the difficult decision to close the museum for the next two weeks. The decision was made based on guidelines now issued by the federal and state health agencies regarding social distancing and avoiding group gatherings. Current plans are to reopen the museum on Saturday, March 28 if it is considered safe to do so.
  • The Highlands Ridge Chorale 20th anniversary concerts for March 21 and March 22 have been postponed until 2021.
  • Special STARS and Aktion Club of Highlands County will be putting all events and meetings on hold for the safety of everyone. The Special STARS Softball Classic tournament on April 4 and the practice on March 29 are canceled and will be rescheduled after the ban is lifted. The Aktion Club meeting this Thursday is canceled. No other events will be planned for either group until things are in the clear, according to Cindy Marshall, Special STARS Coordinator and Aktion Club Advisor.
  • The Pine Ridge Promenader dance scheduled for Thursday, March 19, has been canceled
  • Sebring Mobile Estates’ next Social Club Breakfast on Saturday, March 21, has been canceled.
  • The Buttonwood Bay Square Dance Club is canceling its final dance of this season scheduled for Friday, March 20 at Buttonwood Bay RV Resort. The first dance of the 2021 season will be next January.
  • The free Christian Fashion Show scheduled for Saturday, March 21 at Lakeshore Mall has been canceled.
  • The Thursday, March 26 concert of the Highlands Concert Band at the Alan Jay Wildstein Center for the Performing Arts at South Florida State College in Avon Park has been canceled.
  • The Highlands Community Chorus Spring Concert scheduled for Sunday, March 29 has been canceled.
  • Ridge Area Arc has postponed its Big Bang Ranch Family Fun Shoot steel target competition on Saturday, March 28, until a later date to be announced, as well as the Escape to Kokomo scheduled for Saturday, April 18 at Island View Restaurant.
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  • Sun ‘N Lake of Sebring has canceled its Easter Festival scheduled for Thursday, April 9. This event will not be rescheduled.
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  • AdventHealth will close its Wellness Centers at AdventHealth Sebring, AdventHealth Lake Placid and AdventHealth Wauchula. These centers will reopen Monday, March 30. If the public has general questions about COVID-19, AdventHealth has a free, 24/7 phone service for Floridians to speak with a nurse at 877-VIRUSHQ.
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  • The Lake Placid Chowdown Truck event scheduled for March 30 has been canceled.
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  • AARP Tax-Aide will suspend all activities at their Highlands County, DeSoto County and Hardee County locations until further notice. The effected sites are: Faith Lutheran Church, Sebring; Our Lady of Grace Church, Avon Park; American Legion Post 25, Lake Placid; Hardee County Library, Wauchula and DeSoto County Library, Arcadia. As circumstances develop and situations are reviewed, AARP National Office may allow some sites in certain locations to reopen.
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