Parents fear for children on forest path to school

Parents in a new section of Fox Chase say that a path their children walk to reach the back of Southgate Elementary School is dangerously secluded and should not be used by schoolchildren.

"It's too unsafe in this world today to ask children to walk on a wooded path. It's not safe anymore," said Nora Kukuselis, who has two children in the school.


"Once a child rounds that corner going to school, that child is not seen again until he gets to the front of the school," said Kathleen Whitacre, who also has two children in Southgate Elementary.

The paved path runs from Scotts Manor Drive, opposite Perthshire Path, to the rear of Southgate Elementary. Partly on school property, the route is sanctioned by the school system.


Parents in the new Fox Chase neighborhood say that the path, about two blocks long, includes a section hidden from view. A dirt path off one side leads into woods that back up to houses. The back of the schoolyard, where the path ends, is not monitored by adults.

Unlike parents who live closer to the path and who can watch their youngsters run down it, these parents say they would almost have to walk their children to school to see them go down the path into the schoolyard.

They point to the unsolved slaying of Lisa Kathleen Haenel, 14, found stabbed to death Jan. 16 by a wooded path she walked to Old Mill High School. That school is a little over a mile away from the Southgate path. Though diagonally across the street from the high school, the path Lisa walked is one that police and school officials have long warned students against using because it is partly obscured and not school-sanctioned.

The parents are asking the school system to remeasure the distance from Southgate Elementary to Fox Chase homes using streets instead of the path. That would merit the neighborhood a bus, which parents -- including many who drive their children to the school -- say would be fine.

When the distance is measured using the path, the new single-family houses lie just under the 1-mile limit for the county to bus children to school. Homes still under construction exceed the 1-mile test.

Parents say children are not allowed to use the building's back door, which the school system uses for its measurements, and that no adult is there to watch children as they leave the path and make their way around to the front of the building.

"They could come in the back door if that's going to be an issue," said Principal Janet Anderson, who is offering to station a teacher there.

She and other school officials maintain that the path is safe and that its safety has not been questioned before. They re-evaluated it last month.


"Kids are not walking into a dark tunnel," said Winship Wheatley, transportation director for county schools.

Miss Anderson said she suspects the parents are grabbing at straws because they want their children bused for convenience. About 50 of the school's 625 pupils walk the path in the afternoon, fewer in the morning.

Diane Smith, president of the school's PTA, said she would walk the path and put it on the PTA executive board's Nov. 2 agenda.

Capt. P. Thomas Shanahan, who heads the Eastern District Police Station, said he was unfamiliar with the path, but cautioned that young children in general should neither walk alone nor be in an isolated area. He too planned to visit the path.