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Changes weighed for California high school's Arab mascot

By Dana Feldman

THERMAL, California (Reuters) - School officials are weighing possible changes to a California high school's decades-old Arab mascot that an Arab-American rights group has called offensive, the local school superintendent said on Tuesday.

But Coachella Valley Unified School District Superintendent Darryl Adams provided few details on alterations to be made to the mascot, which features a hooked nose, beard and angry look. He said the changes were still being worked out.

Coachella Valley High School's sports teams are dubbed the "Arabs" and at games a person in an oversized mask occasionally prances around with belly dancers. The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), an advocacy group, has complained the mascot depicts a harmful stereotype.

The group's leaders, who sent a letter to Coachella Valley school officials this month, say they are not aware of another U.S. school with the nickname Arab. Their complaint to the school received international attention.

"Even if there's one person offended, you must have a conversation and you must seek resolution," Adams told reporters.

Adams said he planned to meet on Wednesday with Abed Ayoub, the ADC's director of legal and policy affairs. He also said a committee that would include a member of the local Arab-American community would discuss possible changes to the mascot and team logo.

Adams said the ADC was most concerned about the mascot and not the school's team name. It was adopted in the 1930s to honor the local date-growing industry since date palms are associated with the Middle East.

"I felt once they understood the concept behind the name, they'd be OK. Once I explained it, Mr. Ayoub said then it's no longer about the name, it's about the mascot, the cartoonish character," Adams told Reuters.

Ayoub said in a phone interview his group would not commit itself to any specific demands before meeting Adams.

Students at the high school have proposed ideas for new mascots and the school's logo, including a cobra snake. The school is in the arid Coachella Valley town of Thermal, 125 miles southeast of Los Angeles.

The use of ethnic team names and mascots has gained new prominence with a campaign this year to pressure the National Football League's Washington Redskins to change their name. American Indians and others have long pilloried the Redskins moniker as racist.

(Writing by Alex Dobuzinskis editing by Jackie Frank)

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