Trail of Tears sign displayed at football game

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DYERSBURG, Tenn. (AP) - Students at a Tennessee high school held up a sign that referred to 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 Dyersburg High School's 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 in the statement.

In a telephone interview later Friday, Durbin said no punitive action, such as a detention or suspension, had been taken against those who displayed the banner. He also said direct punishment would take place if it happens again.

The school is providing cultural sensitivity training and having students write essays about what why such actions are offensive, Durbin said.

"We're trying to make this into a long-term learning situation," he said, adding that he takes responsibility for the situation as the school district's leader.

Durbin also heard from Native American groups about the sign. Some messages were nasty, but most were encouraging Durbin to use the situation in a productive manner, he said.

"They asked us to learn from this, and we're taking that to heart," Durbin said.

In a separate incident on the same night as the one in Dyersburg, 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 in Tennessee 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.

"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.

(Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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