NEW ROCHELLE, NY — As week two of the Coach D saga runs its course, a picture has emerged of the story behind the story – about a personality conflict that has driven the melodrama set off when New Rochelle Schools Superintendent Dr. Laura Feijóo “reassigned” New Rochelle High School Head Football Coach Lou DeRienzo on November 13th.
The supposed backstory that has engulfed New Rochelle over the past week is one of an internal squabble involving DeRienzo and other New Rochelle High School coaches and City School District of New Rochelle Medical Director Dr. Brooke Balchan rooted in a dispute over concussion protocols that morphed into a battle involving a former athletic trainer.
Sherry Llauger was the Athletic Trainer for the New Rochelle Board of Education from August 2016 to August 2019. She worked as a contracted employee of Symmetry Physical Therapy & Wellness. Llauger resigned her position with Symmetry in July 2019, leaving New Rochelle to take her current position as Head Athletic Trainer at SUNY-Purchase in August 2019.
During the 2019 school budget process there was a push for the school board to fund a full-time athletic trainer position. As part of this effort, players and coaches advocated to fill that position by hiring Llauger to work directly for the District. Student-athletes advocated at the school board’s Budget Cafe and over 500 supporters signed a Change.org petition.
Llauger told Talk of the Sound that she initially got along well with Balchan but after she openly challenged Balchan on the school’s concussion protocol, she saw a “horrible, dark side” of Balchan. Llauger claims Balchan bullied her and harassed her and that efforts to report the behavior went nowhere. She says that Balchan had the backing of then-Interim Assistant Superintendent Amy Goodman, since departed from the District, and Amy Moselhi who is now President of the New Rochelle Board of Education. Balchan was friends with Goodman and Moselhi. according to Llauger, something Moselhi has denied.
The story of the current controversy goes that Balchan made a fuss because DeRienzo played a role in a student in medical distress not getting proper medical attention where no one at the high school called 911 to request paramedics to the scene.
Many Coach D supporters believe that his “reassignment” was retribution by Balchan for support of Llauger.
Llauger said the her falling out with Balchan began on October 18, 2018 when a soccer player suffered a head injury. Under a concussion protocol created by Balchan, Llauger said, any head injury was considered a concussion. As a result, the soccer player was put on the school’s concussion protocol and so ineligible for an upcoming playoff game. At a meeting of the Concussion Committee Llauger asked Balchan if she could “speak freely” and if the committee was a “safe zone”. Balchan encouraged Llauger to share her views.
“In my professional opinion this soccer player does not have a concussion,” Llauger recounted saying. “I stayed with him after the head injury, he was cleared by his personal doctor and his neurologist.”
Despite this, Balchan did not clear the student to play in the next game.
“After that disagreement, Balchan targeted and bullied me,” said Llauger.
Llauger believe Balchan was “untouchable” because of her friendship with Amy Goodman and Amy Moselhi.
Balchan was reportedly angry when she learned Llauger had returned to work two New Rochelle High School football games because an athletic trainer or doctor not available
Llauger worked on September 13, 2019 for the game against North Rockland and October 11, 2019 for the game against Mamaroneck
It is fortunate she was at that first game. A player was “speared” and taken to the hospital at Llauger’s direction. The player was found to have a ruptured spleen.
Llauger raised her concerns about Balchan’s behavior in January 2019 to Interim Superintendent Dr. Magda Parvey.
In a letter sent to Parvey after the meeting, dated January 21, 2019, seen by Talk of the Sound, Llauger described a series of scenarios to demonstrate both Balchan’s lack of knowledge about the profession of athletic trainer and how Balchan targeted her with bullying behavior.
October 18, 2018: During a scheduled concussion meeting, I expressed my professional opinion, as a Certified Athletic Trainer, in regards to a student who had sustained a head injury. I prefaced my statements with “Can I speak freely?” and “Is this a safe space?” Everyone in attendance responded stating that yes it was a safe space. I then proceeded to explain how although the student sustained a head injury, in my professional opinion he did not have a concussion. I was there at the time of the incident and throughout the rest of the night, where I reevaluated him twice thereafter, both times the student remained asymptomatic. I advocated for this athlete, stating that in addition to myself two Medical Doctors agreed and had documented their diagnosis, that the athlete in question did not have a concussion. Dr. Balchan increasingly became agitated and defensive when she stated that at the end of the day her word is the final word and that my job as an athletic trainer is to “just document.” This was the first time I had experienced that side of the Medical Director. I then went on to express that although we were a concussion committee team, I do not feel like a part of a team, because my professional opinion was being dismissed. This was the first time my professional opinion differed from Dr. Balchan. In my opinion, this professional disagreement is what sparked an ongoing series of personal attacks, against me.
October 22, 2018: Dr. Balchan came to the Athletic Training Room, for the first time since her commencement as the Medical Director, (1 ½ years in), to supervise me. Although it was peak time for students and athletes to be in the training room, I welcomed the opportunity for her to see, first hand the interaction between the students and also get an idea of what a day in New Rochelle High School athletics looks like. However, it wasn’t long until she began to micromanage the way the room was being run. Even going so far as to send a follow up email condemning my filing and document management as well as stating, in that same email, that if a student does not sign in they should not receive treatment. The ATR is not a Dr. Office; and I don’t have any plans of running it as such. It is a safe space for the students, with and without injuries, where they feel comfortable, being who they are. A place where relationships are formed, between the athletes and myself, based on trust and a mutual respect. In my opinion, if you start treating it as an Emergency room you loose the foundation of that relationship. Dr. Balchan visited the training room for “supervision” just one last time, after that on October 29th.
November 7, 2018: I sent an email to my Administrative Supervisor; Steve Young, my supervisor from Symmetry Physical Therapy; Hana Gross and Dr. Balchan requesting a meeting to discuss the profession of the Certified Athletic Trainer and how, following her 2 supervisory visits and several phone calls, I felt I was being targeted after my professional disagreement during our committee meeting on October 18th.
November 14, 2018: The meeting was scheduled for 11:00 am at City Hall. Ms. Gross and I showed up at 10:50 and Mr. Young, shortly thereafter. Dr. Balchan, came out of her office at 11:30 and unbeknownst to me Ms. Amy Goodman also walked in at the same time. At the time, I was unaware of Ms. Goodman ‘s position in the district. Shortly after being seated, Ms. Goodman, while looking down at her lap, began to speak, stating that it was her understanding that this meeting was called to discuss the districts concussion policies. When I went to speak to inform her that this is not why I requested this meeting, Ms. Goodman, forcibly put her hand to my face, so close that I could feel the heat coming off of it and stated, “I was not speaking to you!” That one degrading moment set the tone for the rest of the meeting. Throughout the meeting both Dr. Balchan and Ms. Goodman were speaking to Ms. Gross, who is also the Certified Athletic Trainer at Irvington High School, asking her what her opinion was on concussions and how she runs things at her high school. Ms. Gross continued to attempt to redirect the meeting to its original agenda. She answered the questions asked, and would add, “but again I’m not your athletic trainer, Sherry is.” At one point Dr. Balchan and Ms. Goodman both asked Ms. Gross if they could email with her to work on a plan for the district. All the while, talking right through me, as if I wasn’t even there. I felt bullied and not just by two professional colleagues, but by two other grown women. I work with over 1200 teenagers, and I can honestly say that throughout my time at New Rochelle High School, I have never felt more violated, demeaned and disrespected as I did in that meeting. When Ms. Goodman ended the meeting, nothing had been resolved, but it was clear that Dr. Balchan didn’t want and Athletic Trainer who had her own professional opinion, she wanted one that was submissive.
December 28, 2018: During a warm up for a varsity boy’s basketball game, a student sustained a head injury; I followed protocol and assessed him for a concussion. I found the student to be symptomatic, admitting that he was experiencing 2 or more symptoms. I spoke to his father after the game and informed him, amongst other things, that his son would not be allowed to play basketball until further notice, and that due to the winter break I would not be sending out any paperwork/reports until Wednesday January 2nd, 2019 when school resumes and all members of our concussion committee are back. I followed Dr. Balchan’s protocols, (spoke to a parent/guardian and informed both the athlete and his father that he will not be able to play until further notice).
With disregard for the length of time between the injury and post concussion injury #1, (school protocol says they have to be symptom free for 7 days from date of injury, This student took his post injury #1 six days after.) Dr. Balchan allowed for this student to take it 1 day ahead of schedule. In my opinion breaking with the protocols that she had so definitively defended and wouldn’t even consider adjusting for the student discussed during our meeting on the 18th of October, who was asymptomatic, and cleared by two physicians. In addition, there were some discrepancies involved with his NoAP, which states that it is a gradual return to play, increasing the heart rate with every step to see how the brain responds to the added stress. This was not done with this student. During a phone conversation I had with Dr. Balchan during the week of the January 2nd, she asked if the student had a concussion, I responded by stating that under her direction, it was not my job to diagnose a concussion.
January 16th, 2019: The night prior another basketball player sustained a head injury. His parents, were both on the scene, (his father a Police Officer/security guard and his mother a teacher.) I had assessed the student with a quick evaluation and found that his symptoms warranted him to go to the hospital. I was familiar with this family and felt with his father being a part of the EMS system he was capable of transporting his own son to the hospital. I told them they needed to go to the hospital and they told me that, that was where they were headed. On the morning of the January 16th Dr. Balchan sent me a text message and an email to call her. She didn’t ask me questions as to the incident. She interrogated me. She was contemptuous, in her tone and demanded to know why I didn’t call 911. I explained that the parents were on site during the time the injury occurred and that it was my professional opinion that calling 911, when the parents wanted to take him themselves would delay onset of care, by at least 20 minutes. She then wanted to know why I didn’t have him fill out a paper refusing medical attention/transport. I informed her that, that is not what I do and is in fact out of my scope of practice. She stated she felt it necessary to notify Mr. Starvaggi, because both parents were school employees, (which is a clear violation of HIPPA). She expressed frustration towards me, because the parent went to PM Pediatrics and not the hospital. I once again explained to Dr. Balchan that I cannot force a parent to take their child to the ER. I told them that it is my recommendation that his symptoms warranted a trip to the Emergency Room and that is all I could do. The conversation ended with her stating that we should stay in communication with the parents. I responded by telling her that I have been in communication with the mom, since she and his father left the Athletic Training Room, with their son. Dr. Balchan then began a series of emails, that myself as well as some my colleges interpreted as an attempt to discredit me.
Dr. Balchan has continued to question my professional opinion, in regards to every head injury. My hours at the high school are from 2:30 – 8pm, (depending on games) Dr. Balchan has told me that I should not be accepting phone calls outside of those hours; yet, she has made it a habit to call me repeatedly in the early morning, outside of my hours of employment. When I answer her morning calls, not only does she condescendingly question decisions that I have made, but also my education, and my ability to do my job. She makes no attempt to avoid publically bullying me by sending emails to the concussion committee team, contemptuously in an attempt to intimidate and embarrass me. Dr. Balchan has called Symmetry Physical Therapy, (my employer, as I am contracted by the district) several times and demanded my removal from the district. She is indiscreetly persistent in her efforts to let me know that she is in charge.
It is clear that Dr. Balchan is uninformed when it comes to my profession. I have attempted to further her knowledge, in regards to my scope of practice. However, unfortunately every attempt has been met with anger and persecution. In my opinion, Dr. Balchans frustration with her lack of knowledge in the Athletic Training Profession inhibits her from effectively supervising my position. As a clinical coordinator how can you properly manage someone when you don’t know what his or her scope of practice is?
That Balchan would fault anyone for failing to follow school safety protocol to call 911 whenever a student is medical distress is surprising given her own history.
As Talk of the Sound readers know, the District moved quickly to bury a series of violent incidents in January 2018.
To this day, there has been no review or de-brief or investigation into the circumstances that week beginning with the murder of a student and culminating in the near fatal stabbing at the high school.
We published the results of an extensive investigation of what the District Attorney later charged as Attempted Murder – the stabbing of a student in the high school That investigation revealed that no one at the high school called 911.
Medical Director Balchan ordered her staff not to call 911.
The stabbing victim was left unattended while bleeding out for more than 20 minutes because rather than follow the board approved security protocol to dial 911 and call paramedics to the scene, Balchan instead ordered her staff to call the child’s grandmother and ask the grandmother to come to the school to take the child off school grounds.
Some have suggested that the unprecedented decision not to investigate the circumstances of January 18, 2018 was an effort by certain board members to protect a favored but incompetent Medical Director who would certainly have been fired had a formal investigation taken place.