OTTAWA -- Grade 10 students in Carleton Place were never asked to write a suicide note for their a class assignment, school board officials insist, despite the concerns of some parents.
Parents of a student at Notre Dame High School contacted QMI Agency on the weekend to complain after their daughter told them of her homework, part of a class study of the book The Chrysalids.
Students were asked to write a letter from the perspective of Harriet in the novel, the mother of an abnormal baby in the dystopian post-apocalyptic world.
Deformed or abnormal citizens are banished from society and when Harriet's sister refuses to help her forge a certificate of normalcy, Harriet's body is later found in a nearby river.
The assignment was to write a letter describing the oppressiveness of society and the feeling of oppression Harriet felt weighing down upon her.
Students were never asked to write a suicide note, said Dr. Donaleen Hawes, superintendent of school effectiveness for the Catholic District School Board of Eastern Ontario, who conducted an investigation into the claim.
"The novel does imply that a suicide was committed in it, so a student may connect but that was not the intention of this assignment nor was that what the students were asked to do," she said.
"The teacher talked to the students about the assignment and put that assignment in context verbally."
When the assignment was given out last Monday, one student hadn't fully grasped it.
"They did think, they had it in their mind that they would be writing about the suicide and the teacher clarified it for that student that that wasn't the intention," she said.
The teacher called every parent Monday night to clarify exactly what had been asked and the vice-principal met with the class to make sure everyone had understood.
"The teacher feels very badly that anyone would misconstrue the assignment," she said.
But Hawes said it's important not to shy away from sensitive topics with the students.
"The novel deals with complicated issues about society and pressure and alienation and rejection," she said. "It's a book that kids really do engage in and have some extraordinary discussions about."
The student's parents would not return calls from QMI Agency on Monday, and school staff say they have not received any other complaints about the assignment.
School board officials are not considering removing the book from the curriculum at this time.