This story has been corrected with the following information:
Because of a Republic error, a portion of a sentence in a story about a student creating a petition against banning books in school libraries was omitted, resulting in an incorrect statement.
Billie Whitted and eight other women who signed a letter to Jim Roberts “In Christ’s Name.” Eric Grow submitted a 500-signature petition to the Bartholomew Consolidated School Board seeking to implement standards on profanity and vulgarity for school library books.
A Columbus North High School student has created an online petition to advocate against censorship in school libraries, reaching nearly 1,500 signatures in less than two weeks.
Adeline “Addie” Hearn created the petition, called “Protect Our Right to Access Information in School Libraries” on Aug. 28. A copy of the petition may be found at change.org.
“As a student within the Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp., I have personally witnessed the impact that our school libraries have on our education and personal growth,” Hearn wrote in her petition description. “However, recent attempts to censor certain materials by defining ‘profanity and vulgarity’ across our libraries threaten our fundamental right to access information and explore diverse perspectives.”
Since removing its requirement that public comments at board meetings have to be related to an agenda item, the BCSC school board has heard several comments about library materials. Some individuals are calling on the school corporation to remove “inappropriate” books, while others have pushed back against these efforts.
The board has also received written statements on the matter, with two of these mentioned during their Aug. 21 meeting. One was a petition with 500 digital signatures that called for the school board to implement standards on profanity and vulgarity at the elementary, middle and high school levels, organized by Eric Grow.
The other was a letter from 14 BCSC librarians and library assistants, who feel that calls by some to create a subcommittee on library materials “undermines our professionalism and shows a sincere lack of trust in our abilities to perform our jobs.”
In addition to those two, a letter was sent to Superintendent Jim Roberts from another group saying the writers were “shocked, disappointed and angry” that he was “allowing materials harmful to minors in Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. libraries to poison the minds of the very children we entrust to you.”
In addition to being sent to the school corporation, this group’s allegations were sent to Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita, Bartholomew County Prosecutor Lindsey Holden-Kay, the Indiana State Police, Bartholomew County Sheriff Chris Lane and the Columbus City Council. The letter was signed, “In Christ’s name, Billie Whitted, Jean Glick, Marcia Bandura, Jackie Tallent, Alta Robb, Dianna Robertson, Amber Killon, Rebecca McKinney, and Adrianne Siefert.
In addition to being sent to the school corporation, this group’s allegations were sent to Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita, Bartholomew County Prosecutor Lindsey Holden-Kay, the Indiana State Police, Bartholomew County Sheriff Chris Lane and the Columbus City Council.
When asked what inspired her to start her petition, Hearn said that she heard some of the board’s most recent meeting, as her mother was watching it at home.
“I heard about everyone talking about banning books, and I was really surprised that that would happen in time like this, in today’s time,” Hearn said. “And I just really thought that I had to start a petition to spread awareness about it, because I don’t think that a lot of my peers even knew what was happening or that book banning was even a thing.”
According to a presentation from Hearn, her campaign had reached nearly 1,500 signatures as of Wednesday morning. Of that number, about 600 named Columbus, Ind. as the city they reside in. Others list their residences as other locales in Indiana, the United States, and, in some cases, other countries.
In her petition, Hearn stated that it’s important for students to develop critical thinking skills and to learn how to explore different perspectives, with school libraries playing a crucial role in this process.
“By defining what is ‘profane and vulgar’ we set ourselves up for the removal of library materials based on things like the number of profanities or the subject matter of the book alone…without credence to the overall value of the literature,” she said. “This effort would lead to limits to the availability of materials that challenge conventional beliefs or offer alternative perspectives. By restricting access to certain books or topics, students are denied the opportunity to broaden horizons, engage in meaningful discussions, and develop essential critical thinking skills.”
Hearn’s petition calls on the school board and others with decision making authority to:
- “Reject any form of censorship or restriction on library materials”
- “Support intellectual freedom by ensuring all students have access to a wide variety of books representing diverse viewpoints”
- “Promote critical thinking skills and encourage open dialogue within our school libraries”
- “Provide professional development opportunities and support for professional librarians and teachers tasked with handling challenges related to our intellectual freedom”
“I always found it fun to have open options in the library,” Hearn said. “I always thought it was cool to read different perspectives and a variety of different kinds of literature. I think it’s really important for students to see different perspectives so they’re aware of things. And I think banning books really gives them a limited view.”
Hearn’s mother, Lisa Ingellis, shared the results of the petition with school board members and The Republic in an email on Thursday, adding that her daughter also plans to give an update at Monday’s school board meeting.
The BCSC school board will hold a 5 p.m. public work session in the administration building’s board room on Monday to discuss policy. As stated on the agenda, no final action will be taken at this meeting.
According to Superintendent Jim Roberts, the session will likely run until 6 p.m., and there may only be a small amount of time spent discussing policies related to books, depending on how long it takes for the board to discuss some pending policy updates that they have been working on.
If there is time, the conversation would likely be around policies related to instructional materials, library materials and the complaint process regarding these items, as they need to ensure that their practices align with new state statutes by Jan. 1. Additionally, there may be other changes board members wish to make to these policies, Roberts said.
The board’s regular meeting will take place at 6:30 p.m. Monday in the Terrace Room.