NEW ROCHELLE, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) - Students walked out of class in New Rochelle Friday to show their support for a football coach who was reassigned just days before a big playoff game.
Chopper 2 was over the football field Friday morning as students a giant letter D in honor of coach Lou DiRienzo.
The Huguenots are undefeated and in the state quarterfinals. But their longtime legendary coach has been sidelined by an investigation into alleged violation. Students walked out in protest and got loud in defense of their football coach.
They were told not to violate rules in the student handbook, and it's not clear what, if any, discipline they face.
The show of support for DiRienzo, who over almost 30 years has helped shape many lives and has won many supporters, including parents who rallied for him Thursday.
"We support coach D!" they chanted.
The parents are angry because DiRienzo was reassigned and can't coach while the district investigates an alleged violation.
DiRienzo's son tweeted a "fact sheet" Friday, saying the coach helped escort a student "in distress" off campus to her father, who is related to the DiRienzo family.
The district is investigating the exact circumstances and whether DiRienzo violated protocol. New Superintendent Laura Feijoo said Friday that investigation would not be concluded by Saturday's game.
"He did the right human humane thing to help a student in need. It's something I would do and anyone else would do," said Gina Ruggiero with the NRHS Football Parents Association.
She acknowledged in a letter to parents "this is very difficult time" and "we know that to many he is much more than a footbal coach, he is a father figure, life coach and mentor. We understand that his circle of his influence extends past the team to all of New Rochelle and beyond."
Her full letter to parents appears below:
Dear Football Parents,
Although I understand that this is a very difficult time, I was happy to hear directly from some of you yesterday. I fully understand that it is frustrating that Coach DiRienzo was reassigned without the district being able to share the details around this decision. The district recognizes how much work went into getting the players, your children, to this high level of competition in football. They are celebrated within our local community and statewide. Much of their success is attributed to Coach D, along with your dedication and support. We know that to many he is much more than a football coach, he is a father figure, life coach and mentor. We understand that his circle of influence extends past the team to all of New Rochelle and beyond.
We are confident that our athletes are prepared for the game on Saturday and we have full confidence in the assistant coaches and their ability to take the team all the way. We also understand that the coaches have a deep and profound respect for and loyalty toward Coach D and have continued to communicate with him during this important time for our athletes. The district is governed by all of the above and its obligation to investigate matters when the situation warrants it.
The Board of Education and the district intend to complete this investigation expeditiously. Investigations are conducted by central and building administration. The Board of Education will be updated once the investigation concludes. Given that we are against what most would consider a hard deadline, the game on Saturday, I feel it is my responsibility to set expectations. I regret to inform you after much deliberation with both central and building level administration, that this investigation will not be concluded by game day. We are committed to a fair and thorough investigation of the matter in a timely fashion but want to communicate our timeline with you so that families know what to expect. We will update you when possible.
This is the distribution list we have of the football parents, please share it with those who may have been inadvertently left off left off.
Thursday, in a brief phone conversation, DiRienzo spoke with CBS2's Tony Aiello.
"My personal life will never get involved in my professional life and coaching and mentoring these young men is first and foremost," he said.
Feijoo is defending her decision to reassign DiRienzo and announce it publicly.
"The information we have at the time matters, and that's how we make our decisions, on the details of particular incidents. But if it escalates to the point of reassignment, I think it's only fair that the community are aware," Feijoo said.
Parents and students aren't the only ones upset. The teachers union says Feijoo's handling of the case raises concerns about due process, and whether their rights will be respected if they're accused of violating policy.
Feijoo has only been on the job for two weeks.
She also announced the reassignment of teacher Eric Luczkowski at Young Middle School for an alleged violation.
Teachers say it short-circuits due process to name names while alleged violations are still being investigated.
"It leaves the everyday teacher, I think, kind of looking over their shoulders and wondering, is it gonna be me next?" union president Martin Daley said.
Feijoo sees it differently.
"I think when you're in a circumstance where you are reassigning someone, that's a significant piece of information that should be shared with the community," she said.
Teachers say they want the new superintendent to resign. The school board that hired her continues to support her, so her job is safe for now.
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