NORTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — The lawyer for several former student-athletes at North Kingstown High School disputed the School Committee’s statement that school officials didn’t know until last February that basketball coach Aaron Thomas had been conducting naked “fat tests” on teenage boys for more than 20 years.
Providence lawyer Timothy Conlon said Friday that he released redacted emails from a former student-athlete, another student-athlete’s fat-test data, and a statement in response to the School Committee’s request for information. He pointed out that the statement shows that former students reported incidents to North Kingstown officials in 2018.
“What [the School Committee] said they were told differs from what the emails and my clients’ statements told officials,” Conlon told the Globe in an interview. “It seems appropriate to try to close the loop.”
“The School Committee suggests some gaps with who knew what when. I hope this helps for them and the public to fill in the gaps,” Conlon added.
Conlon said he also gave the information to the attorney general’s office, the state Department of Education, and the state Department for Children, Youth, and Families. The attorney general’s office confirmed on Oct. 29 that they are investigating Thomas, who has not been charged with any crime.
Committee members voted unanimously last Saturday to continue an external investigation into when information about Thomas first came to the attention of the district administration and what action was taken.
Multiple former students have told the Globe that Thomas had conducted “body-fat” tests on male athletes, in a closet or in his office, going back to the mid-1990s. Several former athletes said that Thomas asked them, “Are you shy or not shy?” Those who said they were “not shy” were told to remove their underwear for the tests, which were conducted without another adult present.
Thomas’ lawyer, John E. MacDonald of Providence, told the Globe Thursday that it was easier for Thomas to take their measurements while the students were naked. He shared with the Globe a redacted “weight testing agreement” signed by students and their parents, but the agreement does not detail how the tests were conducted and does not disclose that the students would be asked to be fully nude.
When contacted by the Globe and asked to respond to Conlon’s statements on Friday, MacDonald said, “No comment.”
In its statement on Nov. 6, the School Committee said that the administration first learned about the fat tests in 2018, when a former student contacted the School Department, but that the student did not say he was tested while naked. The superintendent, high school principal, and athletic director confronted Thomas at the time, and told him he needed to have two adults present for any testing of athletes, and tests should be conducted in the locker room rather than his office.
However, Conlon said Friday that two former students spoke to North Kingstown officials four times in 2018 — and that they told the officials they were naked and alone with the coach, on school property.
“Each young man stated that he was touched, and subjected to a series of pinches using the employees fingers and a caliper device. Both boys described one of the pinches was on his inner thigh within inches of his genitals,” Conlon said in a statement accompanying the documents. “These young men made it clear at the time that their experiences were not to be taken in isolation, and that naked, one-on-one examination or ‘testing’ of students had been routinized within the school.”
One student-athlete even provided names of school officials who would have known about the fat tests, Conlon said. But nothing was reported to the Department of Education, or the Department for Children, Youth and Families, at or around that time.
Then, on Feb. 12, 2021, another former student emailed deputy superintendent Denise Mancieri, saying the fat testing had started when he was about 13. Conley shared those emails publicly on Friday. The former student had previously shared them with the Globe.
“I’m writing to you because I can no longer stay silent about the trauma I was subjected to by Aaron Thomas,” the former student wrote. “Every month for my entire time at NKHS Thomas brought me into his office (protected by CCTV) and asked me to get naked, then touched me all over my body. He did this to dozens if not hundreds of boys over a ~10 year period to my knowledge.”
“The first time I fat tested was 13 years old,” he wrote in another email.
Mancieri responded that day, telling the student “We take this email very seriously and we must investigate,” and asking for more information. The former student gave her the names of other young men who would have been fat-tested, as well as the name of other faculty members and coaches who would have been aware of the testing regimen.
There was a flurry of emails between them, as Mancieri assured the former student they were taking it seriously. She included Superintendent Phil Auger and wrote that “the process has begun.” She mentioned going to the police, and the former athlete said that another man had already spoken to North Kingstown police in 2018.
“No one brought that to the school department,” Mancieri responded.
Less than two weeks later, the School Committee voted unanimously to terminate Thomas at the end of the school year. He quietly resigned on June 24, but was hired as a middle school social studies teacher by Monsignor Clarke School in South Kingston soon after.
Thomas was fired by the Catholic school on Nov. 5, shortly after the nude fat testing allegations became public. In an email sent to parents, the principal at Monsignor Clarke School accused North Kingstown school officials of withholding information about the accusations made against Thomas.
Meanwhile, more people have come forward about undergoing the fat tests.
School Committee member Jennifer Lima told the Globe that she learned recently that her son, now 31, had been subjected to Thomas’ “fat tests” while a basketball player at North Kingston High School. She said that she believes parents had no idea the fat tests were happening — or that they were conducted while students were alone with Thomas and fully nude.
That can be a difficult conversation for parents to have, Conlon said.
“I think it is important to stress that questioning of your child, even as a young adult, about what happened in a room when the child was alone, naked with an adult may not help at all,” Conlon said. “For whatever psychological reason, I have had adult victims as clients for whom telling their parents was one of the hardest things they had to do. They avoided it, and even hid what happened for years.”
Conlon said that’s why he contacted Peg Langhammer, the executive director at Day One, which aids victims of sexual assault and trauma. The organization has set up a phone line for former student athletes who were affected by the testing to call: (401) 421-4100 ext. 444