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Trail of Tears sign displayed at football game

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November 22, 2013 12:37 PM EST | AP

DYERSBURG, Tenn. (AP) — Students at a Tennessee high school held up a sign that referenced the Trail of Tears at a recent football game against a team nicknamed the Indians, officials said.

Dyersburg City School District's director of schools, Neel Durbin, said in a statement Friday that it does not condone the sign display at the Nov. 15 playoff game against North Side High School, calling it "crass, insensitive and offensive." The district has taken action, though it was handled in a "non-public manner," Durbin said. District officials declined to elaborate.

In a separate incident that same night, cheerleaders at an Alabama high school also displayed a sign referencing the U.S. government's forced removal of more than 15,000 Native Americans from ancestral homes in the Southeast to what is now Oklahoma in 1838 and 1839. Thousands died.

Administrators apologized for that banner, displayed when McAdory High School played the Pinson Valley Indians. The sign said the school's opponents should "Get ready to leave in a Trail of Tears."

The Jackson Sun reported ( photos of the sign appeared on multiple Facebook pages, including one linked to the Dyersburg football program. Principal Jon Frye said all the photos he knew about had been removed.

Frye told the newspaper he didn't see the sign until students and fans were coming onto the field at the game's end. Frye said he does not think they hid it from him or meant anything racially insensitive, and the school was using it as a way to educate students through its social studies department.

"We've taught them this week that this was a sad event in the history for Native Americans and in our country's history as well that resulted in the deaths of thousands of people," Frye said. "We wouldn't use an event like that to reference when playing against a team with a mascot like 'Indians.'"

"We don't play North Side or other teams with nicknames like that a lot, so it's not an issue we have to deal with very often around here," he added.

The school district's statement referred to the district as a family.

"And, as with family, we wish to deal with our internal issues in a non-public manner," the statement said. "Rest assured, we have spoken to our students and staff, taken action, and hope that our entire community can use this as a learning experience to become more culturally sensitive."


Information from: The Jackson Sun,