NEW ROCHELLE, N.Y. — Hundreds of teachers, and more than a thousand students — in two separate events — demonstrated on Friday in support of a beloved football coach and teacher who's been reassigned.
Coach Lou DiRienzo is, at least for the time being, banned from his school over a non-criminal incident in which he was involved earlier this week.
At 11:00 A.M. on Friday, students walked out of New Rochelle High School en masse, in organized support for DiRienzo.
Out on the football field, the students formed the shape of a massive letter.
"A D-form," said Sara Lore, a senior. "For Coach D."
The coach led the school's football team to an undefeated season this year. DiRienzo is also a longstanding coach and P.E. teacher at the school.
"He's a really good guy," said Tishyra Thomson, a ninth grader.
The reassignment was made by New Rochelle School Superintendent Laura Feijoo after DiRienzo helped a distressed student, who is related to him, leave school grounds this past Wednesday. The student was escorted by the coach to the company of the student's parent, according to a wide variety of sources.
To say that the reassignment sparked outrage seems to be an understatement.
At 4:00 p.m., a couple hundred teachers took to the steps of New Rochelle City Hall, where the superintendent's office is located. They called for the superintendent's resignation, even though she's only been on the job for two weeks.
One teacher who spoke with PIX11 News about the situation is also a New Rochelle High School parent.
"I think the kids exercising their rights, to speak up for their coach and a man who's been a been a pillar of the community for many, many years here," said Alexis Candelario, "I think that's fantastic."
For her part, the school superintendent agreed. Dr. Laura Feijoo said, in part, in a statement, "We are proud of the students for taking the initiative to express their views," she said.
The football team is ranked second in the state and has a playoff game on its schedule on Saturday.
However, the superintendent said in part, in another statement, addressed to football players' parents, "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. "
That did not please many families. Still, parents said that what's more important to them than the coach being on hand for a football game is that he be around for students at school.
Parent Jennifer Paredes said that DiRienzo has been unbelievably helpful to her son, who's in 12th grade.
"He's a special needs child," she told PIX11 News, "and by this coach and another coach, he gets to come on the field and dress in a jersey."
"Everything he's done," she continued, regarding DiRienzo, "it's impacted the kids, very much so, a lot."
"He was trying to help a student out," the mother said. "I think anyone else would have done the same thing."
At this point, it's not clear how soon the investigation by board of education will conclude. "We will update you when possible," the superintendent wrote in her email to football players' parents.
Meanwhile, there's an online petition in support of Coach DiRienzo. Throughout Friday, it added signatures steadily all day.