‘Oral Sex’ Definition Prompts Removal of Dictionary from K-8 Classrooms

MENIFEE, Calif.—The Menifee Union School District is forming a committee to review whether dictionaries containing the definitions for sexual terms should be permanently banned from the district's classrooms, the Press-Enterprise reports.

Following a complaint by an Oak Meadows Elementary School parent that the parent’s child had stumbled across a definition for "oral sex," the 9,000-student K-8 district last week pulled all copies of Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary.

“The decision was made without consultation with the district's school board and has raised concerns among First Amendment experts and some parents,” reports the paper. “A memo from the district's assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction … called the Merriam-Webster dictionary a respected resource but noted district officials found that ‘a number of referenced words are age-inappropriate.’”

Subsequent concerns by First Amendment experts and some parents have led to the formation of the committee, which “will determine the extent to which the challenged material supports curriculum, the educational appropriateness of the material and its suitability to the age level of the students."

According to Joan Bertin, executive director of the New York-based National Coalition Against Censorship, whose members include the American Library Association, dictionary bans have happened in the past, although none has been reported since the mid-1990s.

"It's rare but not unheard of," she said, adding that the Menifee ban is particularly troubling, because it is based on one parent's complaint, Bertin said.

According to school district spokesperson Betti Cadmus, other less extensive and more elementary dictionaries remain available to students. Cadmus also said that principals, teachers and parents will be on the committee along with district representatives.