NORTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — School officials told high school boys’ basketball coach Aaron Thomas to stop conducting “body fat tests” on students alone in his office back in 2018, the school committee acknowledged Saturday after a six-hour meeting behind closed doors.
As protesters rallied outside, school committee members met to discuss “investigative proceedings,” “job performance,” and “potential litigation” over allegations that Thomas, had for more than 20 years urged male student athletes to strip naked for “body fat tests” he conducted on them in a small room off of his office.
In a statement released by lawyer Mary Ann Carroll after the meeting, the committee said that a former North Kingstown High School student who wanted to be anonymous told the School Department in 2018 that Thomas was conducting “fat testing” in his office.
The committee members stated that the former student did not allege inappropriate conduct or say that he was naked — just that he felt uncomfortable and found the test unusual, the statement said. The superintendent, high school principal, and the athletic director told Thomas that any testing of athletes was to be done in the locker room with at least two adults present.
It wasn’t until Feb. 24, 2021, after another former athlete came forward, that the school administration finally decided to terminate Thomas and hired lawyer Matthew Oliverio to investigate the allegations. The second former athlete told them that Thomas had performed multiple “fat tests” on him in 2006 while alone in his office, with the boy naked. He also said that Thomas gave him a “hernia check” with his bare hands.
And he told them about the question that Thomas asked many of the teenage boys playing sports at North Kingstown High School: “Are you shy or not shy?”
Thomas would ask the question and then have the boy meet him in a small closet or little AV room attached to his office. There, if the boys said they were “not shy,” they would have to remove their clothes and underwear so Thomas could do a “body fat test,” using skin-fold calipers to pinch and explore the skin near their scrotums, their groins, and their buttocks, some of Thomas’ former players told The Boston Globe in multiple interviews over the past several months. Some said Thomas would also ask them to do stretches or “duck walks” while naked. (The Globe does not publicly identify alleged victims of possible sexual assault without their permission.)
The committee said that Thomas declined requests to be interviewed and refused to cooperate with Oliverio’s investigation. Thomas has also declined multiple request for comment.
On Saturday, two of the former athletes told the Globe they had shared explicit details with the school, including that they had to take off all of their clothes and underwear for the “fat tests.”
In the statement, the committee said that Oliverio’s investigation — which included statements given by former students to the North Kingstown police — found enough testimony to “credibly conclude that Mr. Thomas acted inappropriately and without parental consent.” Thomas quietly resigned on June 24; the School Department did not negotiate his resignation.
The state Department of Education was notified of the circumstances of Thomas’ resignation nearly two months later, in late August. By then, Thomas had already found another job.
On Sept. 1, the principal of Monsignor Clarke School in South Kingstown, Arthur Lisi, left a voicemail for North Kingstown High School Principal Barbara Morse.
“We are ready to hire, or we hired, a teacher that was in your building for a while,” Lisi said in the message, a recording and transcript of which was shared with the Globe. “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.”
While the Catholic school and Diocese of Providence are adamant that North Kingstown gave a “positive, professional” recommendation, Morse says no such recommendation was given.
Thomas was fired from Monsignor Clarke School on Friday. In an email sent a letter to parents, Lisi accused North Kingstown officials of withholding negative information about Thomas.
Attorney General Peter Neronha’s office say their investigation into Thomas’ actions is “ongoing.” Thomas has not been charged with any crime.
Multiple former athletes say that the school department should have known what was going. One who said that he reported Thomas’ actions to the North Kingstown Police Department in July 2018 said that the committee’s statement on Saturday was “disgraceful.”
“We aren’t talking about asking someone to clean up the gym after practice. We are talking about a grown man being alone with naked boys in a closet,” the former athlete said.
According to interviews with some alumni going back to the late 1990s, the “body fat tests” and “Are you shy or not shy?” question were common knowledge at the high school, among athletes and teachers. One graduate said there was even a sign-up sheet posted outside Thomas’ room; some former athletes said the nude fat tests were “normalized,” or seen as a rite of passage to fit in with the older teens on the sports teams.
Others, who initially defended Thomas to the Globe, changed their minds once they learned that actual skin caliper testing does not involve being fully nude, and measurements are not taken on or near the groin.
The committee meeting on Saturday drew more than 20 protesters, including some North Kingstown residents, who carried signs reading “Shy or not shy?” and demanded the resignation of Superintendent Phil Auger.
Tiffany MacLeod, 30, who graduated in 2009, said that several of her friends said that they had refused to strip naked when Thomas asked his question. She said they have told her they believe they were held back from playing sports because of it.
“It’s just kept me up at night,” MacLeod said outside the administration building, while holding signs “RESIGN” and “How could you do this to our kids??”
“I want children to be protected,” MacLeod said. “I want them to answer questions, and I want Auger and the principal to resign.”
The scene outside North Kingstown School Adminustration where the school committee is meeting in executive session over former cosch Aaron Thomas. pic.twitter.com/MDNYGkH9pC— Amanda Milkovits (@AmandaMilkovits) November 6, 2021
“We want to find out who knew what, and when,” said North Kingstown resident Megan Reilly, the mother of four children in the elementary and middle schools.
Timothy Conlon, a lawyer who is representing some of the former athletes, said he has requested their school and athletic records, including fat-testing records, evaluations, and information about who knew about the allegations and what was done.
“What part of kids alone naked in a room with school personnel makes sense? How does it make any sense? And that person goes from one place to another, when we know how people tend to replicate that behavior,” Conlon said. " It’s important to distinguish between what we can prosecute criminally versus what is acceptable for a teacher. No one seems to be suggesting the conduct was appropriate. ... It’s vital information to be made available to subsequent employers.”
The committee voted to seal the minutes. They also voted unanimously to continue the external investigation to determine when information about Thomas first came to the attention of the district administration and what action was taken. The committee members, lawyer Mary Ann Carroll, and Superintendent Phil Auger left without answering questions.
Amanda Milkovits can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @AmandaMilkovits.