SOUTH KINGSTOWN — Monsignor Clarke school principal Arthur Lisi announced in a email to the school’s community that they have fired Aaron Thomas, the former North Kingstown High School basketball coach accused of conducting inappropriate “fat tests” on naked male student athletes for more than two decades.
“I want to let you know that Mr. Thomas was terminated today,” Lisi wrote in the email, which was obtained by the Globe. “We currently have a full-time substitute teacher in the classroom and are working to find a certified social studies teacher.”
As accusations mounted earlier this week, Monsignor Clarke School and the Diosece of Providence maintained that they hired Thomas as a middle school social studies teacher without knowing about the internal North Kingstown School Department investigations, police investigations, or multiple allegations against Thomas.
Thomas had resigned from North Kingston High School in June. He has not responded to the Globe’s requests for comment.
A Diocese spokesman told the Globe on Saturday that North Kingstown High School Principal Barbara Morse had given Thomas a “positive, professional” reference when Lisi called her in September — and that Thomas would not have been hired if they’d known he was under investigation.
But the North Kingstown School District on Tuesday told the Globe that Morse gave no such recommendation. In a voice mail recording and transcript shared with the Globe, Lisi seemed to indicate that the decision to hire Thomas may have already been made by the Catholic school before he called her.
“We are ready to hire, or we hired, a teacher that was in your building for a while,” Lisi said in the message left for Morse on Sept. 1. “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.”
In his Friday email to the Monsignor Clarke community, Lisi accused North Kingston High School of withholding information about Thomas and defended his school’s hiring process.
“This has been a very difficult week for many in our closely-knit community,” Lisi wrote. “We have processed a series of emotions, including frustration knowing that during the hiring process we contacted North Kingstown High School which withheld from us the allegations, investigation, suspension, and planned termination of Mr. Thomas.”
“As we do for all teacher applicants, Mr. Thomas was subjected to thorough national and state criminal background checks, which revealed no disqualifying information,” Lisi wrote. “We also check professional references. Mr. Thomas represented to us that he had retired from North Kingstown after 30 years of service. I personally reached out to and spoke to the North Kingstown High School Principal, his supervisor at his last job, to make sure Mr. Thomas was the right person for our middle school. The principal had the opportunity to warn us and instead withheld all negative information.”
Thomas resigned in June from North Kingstown High School, and the school district contacted the state Department of Education about him in early August, state education spokesman Victor Morente told the Globe Friday. Certification regulations outline that reports must be filed in writing within 15 days of the discovery of the occurrence of the reason requiring the filing of the report.
“With regard to Thomas’ certification: The agency applied the appropriate alert to his certification for further inquiry as needed. We cannot comment further as it is an open legal matter,” Morente said in an email.
While private schools do not have to have certified teachers and do not report teacher assignments to the state Department of Education, Morente said, they have a legal obligation to report alleged sexual abuse of children to DCYF, and if they receive federal funds, to the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights.
On Monday, two of Thomas’ alleged victims, both former North Kingstown High School athletes, told the Globe that they repeatedly told the Catholic school and the Diocese weeks ago that Thomas had molested them.
“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, said.
On Friday, the two men told the Globe that they were “very explicit” in their warnings to the Catholic school.
“I could not have provided more details,” one of the former athletes said.
“I spoke with Sarah Marshall (at Monsignor Clarke School) and was VERY explicit about what my experience with him was,” the other former athlete told the Globe.
In the letter to the Monsignor Clarke community, however, Lisi described the warnings as “anonymous and vague.”
“Two weeks ago, the school and the diocese received anonymous and vague calls telling us to ‘look into Aaron Thomas’—but giving no specific allegations and leaving no name or contact information before hanging up. We reported these messages to the diocesan Office of Compliance,” Lisi wrote. “The compliance office had also received an anonymous voicemail.”
The compliance officer, Kevin O’Brien — a 23-year veteran of the Rhode Island State Police and former Major and Detective Commander — began his own investigation, was able to talk to one of the callers, and documented the complaint, Lisi wrote. But a request for confirmation from the North Kingstown Police department yielded no additional information.
“Pursuant to an Access to Public Records Act request, a week later, (the police) declined to release any information citing privacy concerns,” Lisi wrote. He wrote that the school “learned about the full scope and nature of the allegations” after an inquiry from WPRI-TV, and when the Attorney General’s office then notified O’Brien that they were investigating Thomas.
“Within hours we suspended him and escorted him from the property,” Lisi wrote.
Thomas has not been charged with any criminal offenses.