DREHER TOWNSHIP — Students at the Wallenpaupack South Elementary School in Newfoundland will attend classes at the North campus next Wednesday, February 28.
The action is being taken because of a special service planned a half mile away at Sanctuary Church (the World Peace and Unification Sanctuary).
The church, led by Rev. Sean Moon, was planning a special “blessing” service with couples, that involves bringing unloaded, semi-automatic weapons. The church has explained this as an expression of the Second Amendment right to bear arms, which the church holds essential as a means for people to protect themselves.
The service was set for 10 a.m. on Wednesday.
The event has sparked controversy in the region.
The school is located a half mile away from the Sanctuary Church. Church officials anticipate as many as 600 people will be attending.
Wallenpaupack Area Superintendent Michael Silsby sent a letter home to parents on Friday stating the move is because of the number of people expected in the area and not because of a threat.
“The Wallenpaupack Area School District has been closely monitoring the events that are planned for next Wednesday at the Sanctuary Church in Newfoundland. We have been in contact with the State Police and at this time there is no direct threat to our school or community,” Silsby stated in the letter.
Potential traffic and parking problems connected with the church event were cited.
“It is with this in mind, along with the nature of the event, that we will be transporting our South students to the North Campus for the day,” Silsby said in the letter. Kindergarten through 2nd grade will be joining their counterparts at North Primary School; likewise, 3rd through 5th graders will be visiting North Intermediate School for the day.
Buses will be used, but parents are also welcome to drive their children to the North Campus.
“We respect your decision if you choose to keep your children home for the day,” Silsby added. “Students who are absent next Wednesday will be marked ‘excused’. We will have an increased security presence at the South School all next week.”
Silsby told The News Eagle that Rev. Sean Moon, pastor of the Sanctuary Church, had reached out to the South Principal, Mark Kirsten, about any concerns the service may present the school. Silsby said that originally the district planned to hold classes at South as normal and just ass some extra School Resource Officer presence. Then the event just got bigger, Silsby said, as it spread on school media and the mass media. Concerns about possible protests mounted, as well as traffic and logistic considerations.
He said there were a few parents of South School children that had expressed concerns.
One option would have have been to significantly increase security at the South School, such as by requesting help from sheriff deputies and let classes continue, but Silsby said this may send a wrong message to the young children getting off the bus.
The Superintendent said that there is ample room at the North Campus to add students in the classes, as well as in the cafeteria. Teachers and support staff from the South School will be there as well. Silsby expressed thanks to the staff and administrators for their support and flexibility, acknowledging that this will obviously be a disruption to the routine.
A letter was also sent home to North School families to explain the situation.
In the past, the school district has had to transfer students to another building due to some issue such as a power outage, which was not a planned event.
He stated that the School District remains committed to ensuring the safety of their students and the security of the schools. Mr. Mark Kirsten, the South School Principal, was sending additional information home, pertaining to this special scheduled on Wednesday. Questions were to be directed to the principal.
Silsby told The News Eagle that this is “the most proactive and prudent thing to do” in the event that the church activities grow in numbers and if there were any protests.
Wallenpaupack Area School District has resources online for parents to help answer children’s questions about crises such as school threats. School counselors are also on hand to help students, and some kids have gone to them with questions, Silsby said.
The district is in the midst of updating their emergency protocols. The district’s emergency plan is found at www.wallenpaupack.org.
As of February 1st, there were 269 students attending South Elementary School, in grades Kindergarten through 5th.