A parent complaint that a dictionary in her son’s classroom at Oak Meadows Elementary contained the term and definition for “oral sex” prompted school officials in the Menifee Union School District to pull all copies of the book from its fourth and fifth grade classrooms last week.
Copies of Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, Tenth Edition (published in 1994), were taken from a recommended reading list and put into use in district classrooms a few years ago to accommodate higher level readers, said Betti Cadmus, spokeswoman for the district.
“The reason behind buying a college-level dictionary is that we have students who are reading at much higher levels,” Cadmus said.
However, Cadmus said that when the parent — who was volunteering in her son’s classroom when she came across the word — complained to the school’s principal about the explicit language, curriculum officials with the district made a decision to temporarily remove the books.
Next, according to school board’s policy, a committee consisting of site and district representatives will be formed to “determine the extent to which the challenged material supports the curriculum, the educational appropriateness of the material, and its suitability for the age level of the student.”
The policy goes on to state that within 30 days of being convened, the review committee shall summarize its findings, and the superintendent or designee shall notify the complainant within 15 days of receiving the committee’s written report.
As for whether the dictionary will be replaced with one that some may deem more age-appropriate for fourth and fifth graders, Jason Rogers, a father of three children aged 5, 7 and 9 who attend school in the district, said the dictionary is not the problem.
“You want to dumb down the kids? You don’t create lifelong learners by sticking them in a box and telling them what books they can read,” Rogers said. “That is not the worst word in the dictionary. Kids are going to be exposed to things, and it is the parents’ job to explain it to them, not the teachers’ or the school district’s (job).”
“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,” he said.
“You have to draw the line somewhere. What are they going to do next, pull encyclopedias because they list parts of the human anatomy like the penis and vagina?” Rogers said.
Rogers said it is not uncommon for his 9-year-old son to come home and ask him what a word means, and that he regularly has his son look up terms in the dictionary.
“He is reading at a level two to three times above where he should be,” Rogers said. “I really don’t want this to affect my kids’ learning abilities, by ‘dumbing’ down the books they can access at school.”
But Cadmus said the parent took the right steps in reporting the word to the site’s principal, who in turn contacted the district’s curriculum director.
“There is a certain order of steps a parent can take, and due to the sensitive nature, the concern was given to temporary pull the books from each class,” Cadmus said. “We are grateful that the parent who saw something sexually graphic brought it to our attention.”
Maggie Avants is the education editor at SWRNN.com. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow SWRNNedu on Twitter.