General Articles

School District Moves to End Dictionary Ban

 Menifee, CA

One week following a complaint made by a parent of an Oak Meadows Elementary School student, copies of the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary, tenth edition, were temporarily removed from the school’s fourth- and fifth-grade classrooms for containing definitions of sexual terms such as “oral sex.”[1]
The college-level dictionaries were initially put in the classrooms a few years ago, based on a recommended reading list from the district, in an effort to accommodate the schools’ higher-level readers.[2] Immediately following the parent’s complaint, all copies of the dictionary were pulled from Menifee Union School District classrooms without consultation with the district’s school board. Members of the school board expressed gratitude that the parent brought the concern to their attention. Other parents and community members, however, worry that the possible ban of the dictionary is an overreaction and, according to the executive director of the California First Amendment Coalition, “offends free-speech principles and values that all public schools should hold dear.”[3]
A father of three elementary school students in the district argued, “It is not such a bad thing for a kid to have the wherewithal to go and look up a word he may have even heard on the playground. To me it is brilliant.”[4]
In response to the decision to remove the books for review, a grandmother of a 10-year-old Oak Meadows student said, “They’re doing exactly the right thing.” She further stated, “Parents and school officials should do all they can to shield young children from explicit terms.”[5]
In compliance with Menifee Union school board policy, a committee was given 30 days from the time of the complaint to review the dictionary’s content, and “decide on its educational appropriateness” and whether it should be permanently removed from classrooms.[6]
After careful review and some debate, a committee of parents, teachers, and administrators decided to permit fourth and fifth graders of Oak Meadows Elementary School to use Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. Parents can, however, choose to have their children use an alternative dictionary.[7]

[1] Maggie Avants, “Menifee USD Pulls Dictionaries Due to Explicit Word: School Officials in the Menifee Union School District Pulled All Copies of the Book from Its Fourth and Fifth Grade Classrooms Last Week,” Southwest Riverside News Network, 24 January 2010, accessed 1 February 2010, <>.

[2] Duane W. Gang, Dayna Straehley, and Sarah Burge, “Menifee School Panel Will Review Banned Dictionary,” Press-Enterprise, 22 January 2010, accessed 1 February 2010, <>.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Avants, Maggie, “Controversy Growing over Riverside School District Decision to Ban Dictionary,” Southwest Riverside News Network, 26 January 2010, accessed 1 February 2010, <>.

[7] “SoCal School District Ends Dictionary Ban,” San Diego Source: The Daily Transcript, 27 January 2010, accessed 1 February 2010, <>.