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RI CRIME

Another North Kingstown coach accused of inappropriate behavior with underage student

The lawyer representing former student-athletes who underwent naked “fat tests” by boys basketball coach Aaron Thomas says school officials took years to act on complaints about a different coach stalking a pre-teen girl

People protesting North Kingstown superintendent Phil Auger hold up signs during a North Kingstown school committee meeting at North Kingstown High School in North Kingstown, R.I., on Nov. 16, 2021.Matthew Healey for The Boston Globe

NORTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — Another coach in the North Kingstown School District is being accused of inappropriate behavior with underage students.

The lawyer representing former student-athletes who underwent naked “fat tests” by longtime high school boys basketball coach Aaron Thomas says that school officials took years to act on a family’s complaints about another coach’s fixation and stalking of their pre-teen daughter.

Although the school department ultimately removed that teacher from his coaching job in North Kingstown — after the mother threatened to obtain a restraining order — he went on to coach in two other school districts in Rhode Island, and still works as a teacher, said lawyer Timothy J. Conlon.

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The allegations are laid out in a letter that Conlon sent Thursday to Assistant US Attorney Kevin L. Hubbard, who is working with Assistant US Attorney Amy R. Romero in the ongoing investigation into the Thomas complaints.

Conlon is representing five former athletes who filed a complaint under Title IV of the Civil Rights Act alleging that North Kingstown school officials had ignored Thomas’ conduct for years.

This family came forward recently, with accusations about a different coach. They are also speaking with retired Superior Court Judge Susan McGuirl, who is working on behalf of the Town Council to review the criminal and civil investigations of Thomas.

Conlon, who had worked with McGuirl when she was a lawyer in suing the Diocese of Providence over clergy who sexually abused children, found similarities with how North Kingstown school officials handled allegations of misconduct by staff members.

“The dynamic is the same: The parent is in crisis and caring about their child and not really understanding the implications of allowing an intervention that isolates the kid [from the teacher] without dealing with the problem,” Conlon said Thursday. “Most kids and families will be focused on the moment, which is to protect their kid.”

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But the problem doesn’t go away, Conlon said. “Part of why we’re bringing this to the US Attorney and Judge McGuirl is intended to help the institution move past from what would appear to be a culture of whispered words and behind-the-scenes discussion as the modus operandi,” he said. “That’s what’s disturbing.... Individual educators have to understand this is not how it should be going down.”

This family told Conlon that another teacher had warned them about this coach, who is only identified in the letter as “John Roe 21.” The sport he coached is not identified.

A teacher at Davisville Middle School warned the girl’s mother in 2017 that the coach had “done a number” on another girl and for several years had a pattern of singling out and cultivating certain young girls for “special” attention, Conlon said.

That included isolating and arranging for private sessions with the girls who were the focus of his attention, Conlon said.

In one instance, Conlon said, the coach traveled with one of the girls to an out-of-state competition that was unrelated to his coaching job. The girl stayed with the coach in his hotel room during the trip, Conlon said; the other teacher told the family that nothing was done about it.

The parents of the girl who spoke with Conlon said that they discussed concerns about this teacher with different school officials starting in 2017, including then-Superintendent Philip Auger, Davisville Middle School Principal Barbara Maher, and then-Athletic Director Dick Fossa, who has since died. In June 2017 the girl’s mother told another, unnamed, school official, that students had walked in on the teacher wearing nothing but running shorts, because he used a closet in the classroom to change, Conlon wrote.

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Then, Conlon wrote, the parents told school officials about the unusual attention the teacher was giving their daughter as he coached her.

The girl was around 12 years old in October 2018 when the coach set up a routine that left him alone with her at the end of practice and set up extra private coaching sessions with her on and off school grounds. During one session, he touched the girl’s leg as a “purported physical evaluation,” Conlon wrote. The teacher also focused on a small group of mostly female students, the letter said.

When the girl felt uncomfortable and tried to avoid him, the teacher started showing up in the school where her schedule required her to be and parked his truck in the woods where she ran, Conlon wrote.

In December 2018, after months of frustration with what they viewed as inadequate responses, the child’s mother filed a “formal complaint” with Auger.

The parents alleged that the teacher retaliated by shaming and ostracizing the girl, who “spent the better part of two school years crying about going to school while the coach continued to teach and stalk her,” Conlon wrote.

Conlon said the school district said it can’t find the complaint to Auger; however, the girl’s parents still have the January 2019 email exchange between them and Auger, in which the superintendent confirmed having the complaint.

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In the parents’ email, Auger responded to the parents that he “can’t promise any one teacher will not be in the presence of any particular student throughout the course of any given day” and that “In our investigation of your concerns, we have found that [John Roe] has not purposely positioned himself to be in contact with or to intimidate your daughter.”

The superintendent also wrote that the school would continue to monitor the situation, but did not mention advising the state Department of Education of their complaints, nor telling the parents about their rights to seek relief from RIDE or under Title IX, Conlon said.

So, Conlon said, the mother contacted to School Committee Chairman Gregory Blasbalg about the situation. She said Blasbalg told her that “It is virtually impossible to fire a teacher,” and that they were dealing that a “far more serious issue at the high school,” according to Conlon’s letter.

But, when the mother told Blasbalg that she intended to seek a restraining order to address the teacher’s stalking, Blasbalg said he would speak to Auger, according to Conlon’s letter.

Blasbalg called back days later and told the mother that the coach’s position would be reviewed, as well as the district’s hiring policies for coaches, Conlon said. Auger also told the girl’s father that the teacher would no longer coach.

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Blasbalg did not respond to requests seeking comment Thursday.

The teacher soon got a job coaching in another school system where, Conlon said, he held private workout sessions in his basement for some of the female team members. The teacher has since moved on to a different school system to coach, Conlon said.


Amanda Milkovits can be reached at amanda.milkovits@globe.com. Follow her @AmandaMilkovits.