“Students at Wallenpaupack Area South Elementary School will attend classes 17 miles away Wednesday while a church a half mile from their school holds a gun blessing ceremony.
As a safety precaution, the students will spend the day working with students at North Elementary and Intermediate schools instead, Superintendent Michael Silsby said.
World Peace and Unification Sanctuary in Newfoundland, also known as Sanctuary Church, is asking couples to bring semi-automatic rifles to a blessing ceremony Wednesday. They’re expecting about 600 people to attend. The ceremony comes during a time of intense debate over gun violence and ownership throughout the country.
“There is no immediate threat to the school community,” and Wallenpaupack Area is working with state police, a letter sent out to parents Friday afternoon said.
With the social media exposure, talk of protests and strong police presence during the blessing, Silsby said the district is moving the students “to be prudent and proactive.”
Kindergarten and first- and second-grade students will relocate to North Elementary School while third-, fourth- and fifth-graders will relocate to North Intermediate School. The schools are 17 miles from South Elementary.
“Hopefully, it will be a fun, positive experience,” Silsby said.
Parents who drop their students off at South Elementary must do so before 7:45 a.m. A bus will transport the students to North and return them to South by 2:35 p.m., the letter says. South parents also have the option to drop students off at the North schools.
Students who ride the bus will be picked up and dropped off at their stops at normal times, according to the letter.
“We respect your decision if you choose to keep your children home for the day. Students who are absent next Wednesday will be marked as ‘excused,’” the letter says.
There will also be increased security presence at South Elementary School next week, according to the letter.
Sanctuary Church is led by the Rev. Hyung Jin Moon, whose late father, Sun Myung Moon, founded the Unification Church in the 1950s. The church espouses a social conservatism, including a division of the sexes and opposition to alternative lifestyles.
Moon, who refers to himself as the “Second King” and anointed heir to the “True Father,” also called his followers to arm themselves to defend their families, their communities and “the nation of Cheon Il Guk,” the kingdom of God the church believes is prophesied in biblical scripture.
“All of the weapons in the ceremony will be checked to make sure they are unloaded, with a zip tie so that no bullets can be inserted,” Richard A. Panzer, Sanctuary Church president, said in an email earlier this week. “We are inviting local and state police to be on the premises, so that everything goes safely.””