NORTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — School Superintendent Phil Auger announced Wednesday that he was resigning immediately, referencing the ongoing investigation into former longtime high school basketball coach Aaron Thomas and the “naked fat tests” performed on teen boys for decades.
“Our school community is working through its investigation around allegations involving Mr. Thomas at NKHS, and I respect the importance to move forward with a new district leader who is in no way connected to these matters,” Auger wrote in a letter addressed to the North Kingstown school community. “For my response to Mr. Thomas, I remain steadfast in the knowledge that I acted appropriately and immediately in the best interest of students past and present, with the information I had at the time.”
Auger said he also stood by his statement at a School Committee meeting on Nov. 16. “I want our students to have a school experience where they know they are safe and they know they can trust in the adults who oversee their education, and I am dedicated to doing whatever needs to be done, including now to offer my own resignation, to make sure that NKSD has the trust of our community and to support our students, past and present, to learn from this, to process, and to heal.”
Thomas, 54, is under criminal investigation by the attorney general’s office and North Kingstown police, who’ve received complaints from several former athletes who allege that the coach examined their naked bodies while alone with them in his office.
Thomas would ask them, “Are you shy or not shy?” victims told the Globe. If they answered “shy,” they were allowed to keep their underwear on. Most, however, felt pressured to say they were not shy, and endured having Thomas touch them with skin-fold calipers on their groins, upper thighs, and buttocks, or having them do stretches while naked.
One former athlete told Auger about the unclothed fat tests in 2018; Auger denied that he was told the boys were naked. However, Auger and other school officials told Thomas to stop.
At least one other boy has alleged that Thomas continued with the fat tests. When other former athletes came forward in 2021, the School Committee voted unanimously to terminate Thomas. He resigned in June 2021 and was quickly hired by Monsignor Clarke School in nearby South Kingstown. The Catholic school fired him in early November 2021, soon after the most recent allegations surfaced.
An investigator hired by the school committee is expected to deliver an updated report next week about his findings into how school officials handled Thomas. His previous report, released to the public in December, showed that multiple school officials — administrators, athletic directors, and coaches — were aware for years that Thomas was conducting “fat tests” alone on male student athletes but didn’t stop him.
Retired Superior Court judge Susan McGuirl is also conducting a review for the Town Council, and a team from the US Department of Justice is expected to visit the school district sometime next month, following a complaint by five former athletes accusing school officials of ignoring Thomas’s misconduct and allowing him to use his position inappropriately.
Auger’s resignation came just 12 hours after a School Committee meeting that briefly discussed the impending conclusion of the internal report.
It’s unclear whether Auger had been asked to resign.
School Committee Chairman Gregory Blasbalg and Vice Chairwoman Lisa Hildebrand did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Blasbalg later released a statement that Michael Waterman, the district’s director of information technology, was appointed acting superintendent. The School Committee will appoint an interim superintendent at its meeting on Monday and discuss next steps to hiring a new superintendent.
Auger was unavailable Wednesday morning.
Assistant superintendent Denise Mancieri also did not respond to a message left by the Globe on Wednesday. Mancieri was the high school principal in 2017 when a former athletic director told her about finding Thomas alone in a classroom with a half-dressed male athlete. She was still principal in 2018 when Auger told her he’d gotten a complaint from a former student about fat testing. She was assistant superintendent when a former student athlete emailed her in February 2021, saying that Thomas conducted fat tests on students while they were nude.
School Committee member Jennifer Lima said she’d been surprised by Auger’s resignation. Lima has recused herself from involvement with the Thomas investigation because her son was one of the athletes who’d been subjected to the fat tests.
“I’m disappointed to see that it’s come to this,” Lima said Wednesday.
The lawyer representing several of the former student athletes said he was not surprised. “There has to be ramifications,” said Timothy J. Conlon.
“We continue to cooperate with both law enforcement and the School Department, the US attorney’s office, the Department of Education and Judge McGuirl in piecing together the missteps that led to this debacle,” Conlon said, “and as this unfolds, expect a number of actions to be taken to hold people accountable.
One of the former athletes who’d alerted the school administration years ago said Wednesday, “This is long overdue and a step in the right direction.”