NORTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — The Diocese of Providence said it had no idea that its new middle school social studies teacher at Monsignor Clarke School in South Kingstown, who was hired just this fall, had been forced to resign from North Kingstown High School in June over allegations of performing “body fat tests” on the groins of naked teenage boys.
A spokesman for the Diocese told the Globe on Saturday that the principal at North Kingstown High School had given longtime teacher and basketball coach Aaron Thomas a “positive, professional” reference —and he wouldn’t have been hired if they’d known he was under investigation.
“In checking his professional references prior to hiring, the leadership at Monsignor Clarke called and spoke with the principal of North Kingston High School who gave no negative information and gave absolutely no indication that Aaron Thomas had been subject to allegations, had been under investigation, or had in the process of being terminated from the North Kingston school,” Diocese spokesman Michael Kieloch elaborated in an email Tuesday.
Kieloch said that Thomas was placed on administrative leave on Thursday when the Diocese was notified he was being investigated by the Attorney General’s office.
But the North Kingstown School District says the high school principal gave no such recommendation. And two alleged victims tell the Globe they repeatedly warned the Catholic school and the Diocese weeks ago that Thomas had molested them.
In response to a records request, North Kingstown Superintendent Phil Auger on Tuesday gave the Globe a transcript and audio recording of a voice mail from Monsignor Clarke Principal Arthur W. Lisi left on Sept. 1.
“We are ready to hire, or we hired, a teacher that was in your building for a while,” Lisi said in the message for North Kingstown High School principal Barbara Morse. “His name is Aaron Thomas, and I just wanted to check in with you ... about background and just do a reference check on Aaron and make sure he’s the right hire for our middle school.”
Morse said that she called back and confirmed Thomas’ former employment but declined to give a recommendation, according to an email Auger shared with the Globe Tuesday. “And to my knowledge, Dr. Lisi did not contact me or anyone else in the North Kingstown School Department,” Auger added.
Auger declined further comment and requests for an interview. The school committee has hastily called for a non-public meeting on Saturday at 9 a.m., amid the public outcry over the revelations of the allegations against Thomas.
Thomas had resigned from North Kingstown High School in June after more than 30 years as a teacher and a boys basketball coach. He was placed on leave in February, when the superintendent received allegations that Thomas had been conducting body fat tests on nude student-athletes -- using calipers near their genitals -- without parental permission over the last 20 years. The school board had voted unanimously in February to terminate him and hired an outside investigator to look into allegations.
At least two of the alleged victims who had contacted the North Kingstown superintendent and spoke with North Kingstown police told the Globe they were shocked when they heard that another school barely 10 miles away had hired Thomas.
“I heard he was working under the Diocese and thought, ‘Oh, my God, I have to blow the whistle,’” one of the men, a former North Kingstown High School basketball player, told the Globe on Monday.
Both men said that they each contacted Monsignor Clarke School weeks ago, speaking to the secretaries at the front desk and leaving a message with the principal. “I said I was molested, under the guise of fat testing, and asked to strip naked. I said, ‘Please look Aaron Thomas in the eye and ask him about fat testing,’” the former basketball player said. (The Globe does not publicly identify alleged victims of possible sexual assault without their permission.)
The former basketball player said he also contacted the head of the Diocese’ office of compliance, retired Rhode Island State Police Major Kevin O’Brien, who followed up with a phone call. “I’m confident I used the word ‘molested,’” the former basketball player said.
O’Brien did not immediately respond to questions from the Globe on Tuesday.
On Monday, the former basketball player showed the Globe an email that he forwarded to O’Brien on Oct. 18, which contained a message from North Kingstown Detective Christopher Mulligan to the men’s lawyer, Timothy Conlon.
In Mulligan’s email, dated July 19, the detective wrote that the criminal investigation was completed and had been forwarded to Assistant Attorney General Mark Travato. Mulligan wrote that Travato “agreed with our assessment that although the coach’s practice of administering ‘fat tests’ is troubling, especially since there were no consent forms, parent notifications or other witnesses present during the tests, we don’t see probable cause to conclude Mr. Thomas conducted the tests for his sexual gratification or arousal.”
The proper use of body-fat calipers does not involve nudity or “groin checks.” For men, body-fat calipers are used on the diagonal fold of skin on the crease between the armpit and nipple, on the abdomen an inch from the belly button, and on the front part of the thigh half-way between the hip and knee.
The man said that he’d sent the email to O’Brien to show proof that there was an investigation. He said he called the Diocese and the principal at Monsignor Clarke again.
“I talked to the administrators and said, ‘Does Aaron Thomas work there?’ And they said yep,” the man said.
Thomas has not been charged with a crime, however, a spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office said Monday that their investigation is still “ongoing.”
Conlon said the alleged victim is one of several who gave statements to police. Those statements were also provided to the investigator for the North Kingstown School Department.
Conlon called the men “brave.”
“What’s important is that people are aware this problem is out there, and how this guy got to a second school is yet to be discerned,” Conlon told the Globe. “These persons who went through the kinds of events described — it’s very difficult to talk about. If it were not for the courage of people who have been through kinds of experiences to document them, the problems would not get addressed.”