British Columbia

Suicide letter assignment under review after risks highlighted

A controversial high school work assignment that concerned some Prince George, B.C, parents is being reviewed by school district officials.

'I just don't think it's safe to sort of awaken something like that,' says hotline worker

Anybody in Northern B.C. who is concerned about someone, or feeling suicidal themselves, can call 1-800-SUICIDE 24 hours a day. (Northern B.C. Crisis Centre)

A controversial high school work assignment that concerned some Prince George, B.C, parents is being reviewed by school district officials.

A few parents complained to local media that Grade 10 students were told to write an assignment that involved explaining a character's suicide motivations for an English class at Kelly Road Secondary.

At first Prince George media reports called it a suicide letter, but school officials have now clarified.

Students were supposed to write from the perspective of a character in the novel The Chrysalids.

No official complaints: superintendent

After investigating, the district superintendent confirmed students were given a writing assignment involving John Wyndham`s The Chrysalids.

In a release Saturday it was explained that in Chapter 7 of the novel, a character named Aunt Harriet commits suicide.

After classroom discussion of this, the teacher assigned this question as part of a larger assignment due Dec. 7.

Write a 250-500 word letter from Aunt Harriet explaining the following:

a. Why is she going to kill herself and her baby.

b. How she feels about the people of Waknuk.

c. How she feels about religion.

d. How she feels about her sister.

"The learning intention was for students to put themselves into someone else's shoes and determine what motivates people to act in a particular way. Character motivation is fundamental in understanding a novel and this incident is a turning point for the protagonist," said a release from School District 57.

This novel has been on the curriculum in B.C. schools for years and there has never been a previous complaint, said superintendent Marilyn Marquis-Forster.

"But now is a different time and we can always learn something new," said Marquis-Forster.

None of the parents came forward to the school to complain.

"I'm investigating with the principal and asking what the principal knows about it and getting as many particulars as I can.

"We always do encourage parents when they have concerns to go to the folks closest to the situation, in this case the teacher and the principal. Any concerns that ever do come to the district superintendent or the assistant superintendent are responded to."

Suicide a delicate subject for an assignment

Meanwhile crisis workers warn against glamourizing suicide, especially with teens.

"I'm sure it was well intentioned trying to get kids to really think. But just digging deep for those kinds of thoughts is not very safe," said Sandra Boulianne, executive director of the Northern B.C. Crisis Centre.

Boulianne acknowledges she has not seen the exact assignment either.

​"I just don't think it's safe to sort of awaken something like that," said Boulianne, who added talking to teens about suicide in a preventative context can be a positive thing, but the topic needs to be handled carefully.

"When people commit suicide, yes they are remembered, but that memory is accompanied by a lot of pain," she said.

Experts warn that depression is concerning any time of the year, especially during the holiday season.

A crisis line is always open in Northern B.C. 1-888-562-1214 or 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2344).