In the e-mail Ellis explained some students made copies of a master key that gave them access to teachers offices where test answers were stored. Ellis wrote that the keys were passed from class to class when students involved in the activity graduated.
The principal's note also mentions "a separate cheating incident" where students got test answers and passed them around.
Barbara Fields, a parent who got the note sent by Ellis, said she's "surprised about the master key. I'm just wondering how long it's been going on. Not really surprised that the students tried to get the tests, get the answers."
The information inside the principal's e-mail reflects a disturbing trend found in a survey that shows how some students really feel about cheating.
A 2002 Rutgers University survey of 4,500 high school students shows 75% of respondents engaged in serious cheating.
More than half the students questioned admitted plagiarizing work they found on the Internet.
And 50% did not think coping questions and answers from tests was cheating.
In 2004, the Josephson Institute of Ethics survey of high school students found 35% of the those questioned admitted copying information found on the Internet to finish a class assignment.
Sixty-two percent said they cheated during a school test.
And 83% told the survey they copied someone else's homework at least once.
Barbara Fields said her son doesn't take study short cuts.
And she believes those implicated in cheating at Chapel Hill High deserve some kind of punishment.
"Maybe some type of community service," she told Eyewitness News, "maybe some tutoring of other students. I don't think it should ruin their whole lives."
Chapel Hill-Carrboro Schools spokeswoman Stephanie Knott confirmed some students an investigation linked to the "separate cheating incident" got zeros on the test involved.
In an e-mail statement released by Knott on Tuesday -- on behalf of the district -- she said the incident "should not be construed as a widespread problem but rather an event that occurred in isolation. Despite student allegations about events that may have transpired in previous school years, the school and district have been unable to uncover any evidence that they actually took place."
The statement went on to note that "the incident being reported concerned teacher-made tests and not standardized tests that may have been administered by the school. The district maintains strict building test material security procedures. Answer keys to these exams are never in school buildings. They are maintained in password-protected computer software at another location."
As the school moves toward closure on the issue, the school has created a subcommittee of the School Improvement Team to address the issues and will make recommendations in the new School Improvement Plan that will presented to the Board of Education later this spring.