Was bigotry a winner on Long Island? Some members of the Jewish communities in the Five Towns area think so, after a successful high school football coach who was accused of making anti-Semitic threats against a Jewish junior varsity coach last season received a vote of confidence from the administration and the Jewish coach’s future remains unclear.
Rumors about Jewish support for the head coach have divided part of the Jewish community, some observers say.
The Lawrence Board of Education recently granted tenure to Lou Andre, head football coach and physical education teacher at Lawrence High School, two weeks after the board, at a meeting attended by nearly 1,000 people, announced it would postpone tenure hearings for at least a month.
The board said it advanced its decision out of concern for the 33 other teachers whose tenure was to be considered at the same time as Andre’s.
Andre, according to high school staff members and reports in Newsday, used anti-Semitic phrases: including "[expletive] Jew" and "little kike," in several encounters with David Yaker, the JV coach.
"It occurred over a period of time," says Stewart Yaker, David’s father. "It seemed like it came out of the blue."
Initially upset that David Yaker, 28, would not be able to scout a varsity opponent, Andre, 52, publicly berated Yaker during the rest of the season. Six assistant coaches, all non-Jews, signed affidavits that were presented to the board.
"My son was trying to be professional and keep this as quiet as possible," hoping to settle the issue, Stewart Yaker said, adding that his son, an English teacher at Lawrence High, is considering not returning as JV coach after seven seasons.
By winter, the elder Yaker said, the accusations against Andre became public knowledge, dividing faculty members and the student body. Supporters of Andre said his remarks, which the coach had denied making, were part of normal locker room banter.
"Anti-Semitism and other forms of hate have no place in our community, and certainly not in the school building," an editorial in the school’s student paper stated. "It is crucial for the administration and the Board of Education to send a clear message that what is intolerable in the classroom is also intolerable in the locker room. Any coach who violates that responsibility must suffer consequences."
Lawrence High, with a student body of some 1,300, is about one-third Jewish, one-third black and one-third Hispanic.
Faculty members, including Andre and Yaker, are barred by the board from talking to the media about this issue. School board members who were approached by The Jewish Week for comments did not return a phone call.
Charles Wayne, an assistant principal at the high school, said many teachers disagree with the decision of the board, acting on the recommendation of Superintendent Mark Rosenbaum, to grant Andre tenure.
"I don’t think anyone who makes bigoted comments should be an educator," Wayne said.
"A lot of people" at the school "are fairly upset," he said. "They feel their profession is being maligned. It is a very unpleasant situation."
Jon Brooks, interim director of the Anti-Defamation League’s Long Island Region, said the ADL is "very concerned that these type of anti-Semitic terms are being used anywhere."
"It especially concerns us that they are used by an educational professional who has direct contact on an ongoing basis with children of an impressionable age," he said.
The ADL "has been in contact with the administration" about Andre, Brooks said. "They understand our concerns."
He said the administration has approached the ADL about offering anti-bias programs at the school next year, but no details were announced.
The Jewish community’s response to the accusations has been partially muted because the details about Andre’s statements are not fully known.
"If these allegations prove to be true," Rabbi Sholom Stern of Temple Beth El in Cedarhurst wrote in a letter to Rosenbaum, "I would deem it most offensive to the moral sensibilities of the vast majority of the people in our community to have Mr. Andre become a tenured faculty member of Lawrence High School."
The position of the Five Towns Jewish Council, said executive director Geri Gindea, was that Andre should not have received tenure if the charges against him are proven.
Rabbi Paula Jayne Winnig of Temple Sinai of Long Island in Lawrence, noting the many rumors floating about and that "no one really knows all the facts," said many in the community feel the tenure vote for Andre should have been postponed.
"The feeling is that the school board wanted a winning football team," Rabbi Winnig said.
Andre led Lawrence to a 9-1 season and the Nassau Conference II championship last fall. Earlier, at Massapequa High, his teams won two Long Island Class I football championships. At Massapequa in 1994, he held a practice on Yom Kippur, against a directive of the superintendent.
Alongside the accusations against Andre were rumors that he had received support from Jewish members of the board, especially two Orthodox members who did not come to the board meeting when the tenure vote took place.
One of the Orthodox members, Sol Blisko, did not run for re-election last month.