NORTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — An investigator’s report released by the North Kingstown School Committee late Monday night shows that former high school coach Aaron Thomas’ naked “fat tests” of teenage student-athletes was far more intense and invasive than previously acknowledged — and had a sexual component.
“Among other things, those tests included getting into various positions naked and during the course of some of them, Thomas was pressing on the inside of my groin with his thumbs,” a former student-athlete, identified only as “John Doe #22″ said in a statement included in the report. “The nature of the examinations and contact was such that on multiple occasions, I became erect. On at least one of these occasions, I noted Thomas to become visibly aroused.”
That revelation, along with interviews and testimony from other student athletes, was revealed in the report by lawyer Matthew Oliverio, who was hired by the School Committee to find out how much school administrators officials knew about what Thomas was doing — and what they did to stop him and protect students.
The former student-athlete’s statement confirmed what Oliverio said he’d already determined from other witnesses: that Thomas continued testing students naked alone in his office, despite being told to stop in September 2018. The boy said the fat testing occurred from 2017 through 2019.
“This account illustrates the complete lack of oversight over the inappropriate conduct of Mr. Thomas,” Oliverio wrote.
After interviewing students and parents, school officials and coaches, reviewing electronic data and considering those who didn’t want to cooperate with his investigation, Oliverio wrote that Thomas “deliberately concealed his conduct from those in a position of authority” for more than 20 years.
Many teachers and administrators at North Kingstown High School knew Thomas was conducting so-called “fat tests,” but many said they didn’t know the students were undressed and alone with him, Oliverio found.
Thomas was “clever” and “discreet,” Oliverio wrote. The school officials he spoke with seemed sincere when they told him that, if they’d known the full scope of Thomas’ actions, they would have stopped him.
However, it was their trust in and respect for Thomas, who’d taught at the high school for 30 years and been a basketball coach for nearly as long, that blinded them to his actions, Oliverio wrote.
“Their blind allegiance to him allowed Mr. Thomas to evade scrutiny of his inappropriate conduct,” he added.
Oliverio was particularly scathing about how Superintendent Phil Auger and Assistant Superintendent Denise Mancieri handled Thomas.
“The abject failure and neglect of monitoring and oversight over Mr. Thomas’ conduct after September 2018 by the Superintendent can logically be considered neglect of duty,” Oliverio wrote.
Oliverio wrote that numerous witnesses wouldn’t speak to him, including one he said was “critical”: former longtime athletic director Keith Kenyon, who is now principal of Nauset Regional Middle School in Orleans. Kenyon was close to Thomas, and it was evident that Thomas’ fat-testing program was an extension of the Athletic IQ testing program that Kenyon had spearheaded.
Kenyon didn’t respond to calls or email to his school, Oliverio noted.
A recent call from a Globe reporter to Kenyon’s office was returned by Boston attorney Andrea Kramer, who in a phone call with the Globe identified herself as his lawyer. She had no comment. Kenyon then emailed to tell the Globe that he was also not available for comment. He did not respond to a follow-up email from the Globe.
Oliverio obtained statements from seven former students and spoke with administrators including Auger, who abruptly resigned on March 9, saying the district needed new leadership.
Mancieri was absent from the meeting. She 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.
The school committee unanimously appointed Michael Waterman, the district’s director of information technology, as interim superintendent. He is a former assistant principal at Wickford Middle School and previously taught in elementary school and special education. He promised to make decisions as if they impacted his own three children.
“I know this job will require making difficult decisions and know that I will always put our students first and continue that decision-making practice. My top priority is to create a learning environment where all members of our learning community feel safe,” Waterman said during the brief Monday night meeting. “I know how difficult the past six months have been for our community. In addition to media reports, investigations and difficult conversations, our classrooms are struggling with learning loss and an increase of social and emotional issues. As a result of COVID 19, we are a community that needs support, and we need to heal together.”
One parent, Kim Lanowy, spoke to the committee before the report was released. “There’s been not a lot of talk about the kids and what happened to the kids,” she said. ”I’m glad to see some accountability, but a little contrition would be great.”
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.
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.
Oliverio’s 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.
Oliverio worked collaboratively with Attorney Timothy J. Conlon, who is representing several former student athletes, and retired Superior Court Judge Susan McGuirl, who was hired by the Town Council to review the investigations.