NORTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — A mother of two former student-athletes said that high school basketball coach Aaron Thomas was still performing body-fat tests alone on nude teenage boys — even after 2018, when school officials had ordered him to stop.
Kim Lanowy said her sons, who graduated in 2019 and 2021, wanted to play basketball. They told her that other student-athletes considered the body-fat testing something they had to do. “They said, ‘This is the guy who does the body fat tests, when he tells you that you have to be naked, you have to,’” she told the Globe on Monday.
Lanowy was one of several residents urging the town council Monday night to hire outside counsel to either conduct a separate investigation into Thomas or analyze the renewed external investigation by the school committee.
The town council voted 3 to 2 to hire retired Superior Court Judge Susan McGuirl, who is also a former deputy attorney general, to review the school committee’s investigation, police reports, and any information from the attorney general’s office, as well as an investigation by lawyer Timothy Conlon, who is representing some of the former athletes. The initial budget is $25,000.
Council president Gregory Mancini said the outside counsel would give legal opinion on whether or not policies were followed, and why, and would recommend actions the town council could take. He advocated for a review, saying that conducting a separate investigation would be redundant.
“I want to assure members of the council and the public at large we’re going to act on this very quickly,” Mancini said.
After the meeting, Conlon told the Globe he’d spoken with the town’s legal counsel on cooperating to make information for the investigation “available to all sides in an open and transparent manner, while protecting the privacy of former students — that is an important first step in moving forward to healing and reform.”
The council members disagreed on which law firm to hire, but they were united in their disgust over the allegations and were apologetic to the teenagers and their families.
“My heart goes out to families in this case. We need to find some healing in this. It will take a long time to build up public trust,” said Councilwoman Kimberly Ann Page. She had served on the school committee from 2006 to 2014, but said they’d never heard these allegations before, or they would have acted.
Thomas, 54, is under criminal investigation by the attorney general’s office after former athletes going back to the mid-1990s alleged that he had performed “body fat” tests on them while they were naked and alone with him, in either a closet or a small room attached to his office. Some said that he used skin-fold calipers to explore their groin and buttocks, measured their bodies, and had them do stretches while nude. One told the Globe that Thomas used his bare hands to perform a “hernia check.”
Thomas’ lawyer, John E. MacDonald, said there were consent forms signed by students and their parents — although they did not mention nudity. MacDonald previously told the Globe that Thomas found it easier to test the boys when they were nude.
The investigations by the school committee and now the town council are meant to determine who knew what, and when, and what policies were broken. That issue has proven to be a moving target.
Superintendent Phil Auger has said that he found out about the inappropriate fat tests in 2018, when a former student came forward. Auger has denied that the student said anything about nudity; other former students dispute that. 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.
Lanowy said her sons told her that nothing changed — not until Thomas was put on leave in February, when another former student came forward. The school committee voted to terminate Thomas, but he resigned in June. He was soon hired by Monsignor Clarke School nearby, which fired him in early November, soon after the most-recent allegations surfaced.
Lanowy wondered why Auger never followed up to make sure the fat tests stopped.
“My boys were home over Thanksgiving and I had ‘the talk’ with them, and they assured me this was still going on in 2020,” Lanowy told the town council. “So this was two full years after Dr. Auger had a talk with Mr. Thomas. What kind of a talk was it? ‘Hey, no naked fat tests?’”
“My kids could have avoided this if he’d done something in 2018, but he didn’t,” Lanowy said.
Councilwoman Mary Brimer called for putting Auger on leave for not notifying the state Department of Children Youth and Families in 2018. “He failed to do that, he failed our students, he failed parents and he failed the community,” she said. “He just needed to report it, and he failed us.”
Conlon said later that his clients appreciated the support of the town council members, and Brimer’s initiative in contacting DCYF.
“Councilwoman Brimer evidently took the initiative to confirm what we have said: School Administrators knew long before 2021 and failed to report allegations of misconduct as they should have to DCYF,” Conlon said. “It is refreshing to hear the town recognize that mistakes were made — and I hope her call for accountability is heard by those who run the school.”
Conlon said he wasn’t surprised by what Lanowy said her sons told her, about fat-tests continuing after 2018.
“When such things are dealt with quietly — with secret meetings and no reporting — it’s foolish to expect it to stop,” he said later. “As difficult as it has been for these young men to discuss what happened, their willingness, and the willingness for others to come forward,— is the path toward the real change and accountability the Town Council is looking for.”