NORTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — The interim school superintendent announced late Friday night that he has placed a teacher accused of stalking a middle school girl on leave and ordered an internal investigation.
Superintendent Michael Waterman said in a letter to the school community that he was responding to the allegations that lawyer Timothy J. Conlon, who is representing the family, sent to the school department on Thursday.
Conlon also sent the letter to Assistant US Attorney Kevin L. Hubbard, who is working on the ongoing civil rights investigation into complaints about former boys high school basketball coach Aaron Thomas conducting “naked fat tests” of teen boys.
The middle school teacher, who is not named, was coaching the pre-teen girl when her family said he became fixated on her and made arrangements to be alone with her, according to Conlon’s letter. When she attempted to avoid him, the teacher began stalking her, Conlon said. The family told Conlon that the teacher had a history of similar behavior with other young, female students he coached.
The family alleges that they told several school officials, including then-Superintendent Philip Auger and School Committee Chairman Gregory Blasbalg, who were slow to respond — until the mother said she was going to seek a restraining order against the coach.
The teacher was then removed from coaching in the North Kingstown school district, but got coaching jobs in two other school districts while continuing to teach in North Kingstown, Conlon’s letter said. Parents at another school district told the North Kingstown family that the teacher had coaching sessions in his basement and appeared to fixate on a select few girls, Conlon wrote.
Auger had reviewed the family’s allegations, and the matter had been considered closed at the time, Waterman said.
However, Waterman said that after reading Conlon’s letter and reviewing Auger’s actions, he was going to take action “in an immediate and transparent way.”
Waterman said he placed the teacher on administrative leave Friday and instructed the school department’s independent investigator, lawyer Matthew Oliverio, to open an investigation. He encouraged anyone with additional information about the allegations to contact Oliverio at email@example.com.
Waterman said the school department is cooperating with ongoing investigations by the attorney general’s office and the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Division.
Conlon said the girl’s family told him that a teacher at Davisville Middle School had warned them 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.
In one instance, Conlon said in his letter, 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.
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.
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 about the coach, who is identified in Conlon’s letter as “John Roe 21.”
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 21] has not purposely positioned himself to be in contact with or to intimidate your daughter.”
So, the mother contacted Blasbalg, who she said 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 against John Roe 21, 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.
The teacher remained at the middle school in North Kingstown, and went on to coach in other districts.