NORTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — The School Committee member who told the Globe last month that high school basketball coach Aaron Thomas had performed naked fat tests on her then-teenage son, has decided to recuse herself from any further involvement in the matter.
Jennifer Lima, who voted to terminate Thomas in February, said she made her decision to recuse after receiving input from the Rhode Island Ethics Commission.
“I do not think that I have a conflict of interest,” she said in a statement posted on her campaign’s Facebook page Thursday evening. “But in order to avoid even the slightest appearance of impropriety I have come to believe this is the right course of action.”
Based on input from the RI Ethics Commission I have made the decision to recuse myself from any involvement with the...Posted by Jennifer Lima for North Kingstown School Committee on Thursday, December 2, 2021
Her son had played varsity basketball before graduating in 2008, but Lima said it wasn’t until the news broke in late October about Thomas conducting fat tests on teenage male athletes that he admitted to her that he and several friends had submitted to the fat tests, naked and alone.
Lima said she then decided to speak publicly about her son after being contacted by a Globe reporter. “In the course of the conversation, [she] asked me how this matter had affected me personally,” Lima said. “I know she didn’t realize the extent of that question but I felt it would have been disingenuous of me not to disclose the information about my son to her.”
In February, when Superintendent Phil Auger told the School Committee about allegations involving Thomas and teen boys, Lima thought it was possible her oldest son was affected. She said she immediately told Auger, School Committee lawyer Mary Ann Carroll, and the rest of the committee.
Lima said she also gave her son’s name to Matthew T. Oliverio, the independent investigator who the committee hired to look into the allegations. Lima said her son did not return Oliverio’s phone calls, and does not intend to join any lawsuit or give any testimony.
“Recusing myself is not an easy decision. But this is not about me,” Lima said in a statement. “This is about the students in NK past and present. This is about making sure that nothing like this happens again. I don’t want the fact that I have a personal involvement in the case to give anyone reason to question the outcome.”
Lima was the first person affected by the scandal to speak publicly. Since then, another mother has come forward. Kim Lanowy told the Globe on Monday that her sons also had been subject to the fat tests. She said her sons told her that Thomas continued administering the tests as late as 2020 — two years after school officials told Thomas to stop.
Thomas, 54, had been a teacher at the high school since 1990, an assistant football coach, the head of the summer sports camps, and the longtime basketball coach. He is currently 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.
All said that Thomas asked them the same question —“Are you shy or not shy?” Those who responded that they were not shy were asked to remove their underwear. 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 the fat tests began when he was 14 years old. Another said that Thomas had done a “hernia check” on him with his bare hands.
Thomas is expected at a hearing in Washington County Superior Court Friday morning. The lawyer for several former student-athletes filed a motion for Thomas and the School Department to turn over all documents and records, including electronic records, pertaining to Thomas’ employment, contact with students, and anything regarding the body-fat tests.
Lima was one of the three School Committee members who voted on Feb. 24 to terminate Thomas at the end of the school year. Thomas was on paid leave until he quietly left his $93,000 salaried job in June, which ended the School Department’s investigation into his conduct. Then, Thomas landed a job at Monsignor Clarke School, a small Catholic school just a few miles away in South Kingstown. The Monsignor Clarke principal fired Thomas in November, after the allegations became public.
Amanda Milkovits can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @AmandaMilkovits.