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Censorship? Dictionary Banned Due to 'Oral Sex' Definition

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The Press-Enterprise: Riverside, Calif. -- After a parent complained about an elementary school student stumbling across "oral sex" in a classroom dictionary, Menifee Union School District officials decided to pull Merriam Webster's 10th edition from all school shelves earlier this week.

Merriam Websters Dictionary

School officials will review the dictionary to decide if it should be permanently banned because of the "sexually graphic" entry, said district spokeswoman Betti Cadmus. The dictionaries were initially purchased a few years ago for fourth- and fifth-grade classrooms district-wide, according to a memo to the superintendent.

"It's just not age appropriate," said Cadmus, adding that this is the first time a book has been removed from classrooms throughout the district.

"It's hard to sit and read the dictionary, but we'll be looking to find other things of a graphic nature," Cadmus said. She explained that other dictionary entries defining human anatomy would probably not be cause for alarm.

Meanwhile, some parents are questioning the district's response and some school board members are asking why officials did not consult with them.

"Censorship in the schools, really? Pretty soon the only dictionary in the school library will be the Bert and Ernie dictionary," said Emanuel Chavez, the parent of second- and sixth-grade students. "If the kids are exposed to it, it's up to the parents to explain it to them at their level."

Board member Rita Peters questioned why one parent's complaint would lead the district to pull the dictionaries.

"If we're going to pull a book because it has something on oral sex, then every book in the library with that better be pulled," she said. "The standard needs to be consistent ... We don't need parents setting policy."

Peters said if the dictionary quarantine is setting a precedent, a committee should be formed to review all school books for age-appropriateness.

Board member Randy Freeman, an elementary school teacher and parent to four daughters in Menifee schools, said he supports the initial decision to ban the dictionary temporarily.

Freeman said it's "a prestigious dictionary that's used in the Riverside County spelling bee, but I also imagine there are words in there of concern."

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