NEW ROCHELLE, Westchester County (WABC) -- Students at a Westchester County high school walked out of class Friday in protest after a popular high school football coach was reassigned from both his teaching and head coaching duties.
The move came one day after parents were involved in a heated meeting with the superintendent over Louis DiRienzo's removal, pending an investigation, ahead of the No. 2 ranked Hugunots (10-0) playoff matchup in their quest to repeat as Section I/Class A champions.
District officials would not comment on the circumstances of the investigation, but parents say that it involved a student who is DiRienzo's relative and who was impaired in some way at school.
DiRienzo contacted that person's father, the parents say, and allowed them to leave the school rather than face discipline -- an apparent violation of school protocol.
But parents say this is about more than just football, and they turned out to support DiRienzo and demand his reinstatement. They say he has served as a father figure to hundreds of student-athletes for more than two decades.
"My goal and my focus is on my football team and putting these young men in the best possible position to win a football game Saturday night," DiRienzo told Eyewitness News. "My personal life will never affect my professional life, and my goal to coach and mentor these kids."
Superintendent Dr. Laura Feijoo sent the following letter home after the meeting, explaining that DiRienzo would not be on the sideline for Saturday's game.
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.
She also sent a letter, as follows, to parents in regards to the student walkout.
New Rochelle community,
This morning, a number of New Rochelle High School students rallied in support of Coach Louis DiRienzo during fourth period lunch.
The students conducted themselves in an orderly and respectful fashion, and remained on school grounds.
We are proud of the students for taking the initiative to express their views.
The school will follow the regulations for addressing any unexcused absences, as prescribed by the Code of Conduct.
I have been keeping fully abreast of the situation and will continue to do so to ensure the orderly operation of the high school and, most importantly, the safety and security of all staff and students.
Dr. Laura Feijoo
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New Rochelle High School students walk out in support of reassigned football coach