NORTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — Three months after a retired judge reported how the once-celebrated high school basketball coach was allowed to conduct “naked fat tests” of teen boys for decades, the Town Council still had questions Monday about whether school officials were making recommended changes.
The Town Council had hired retired Superior Court Judge Susan McGuirl to review the internal and criminal investigations into Aaron Thomas, who has since been criminally charged. Her 80-page investigative report, released in June, looked at the systemic failures of the North Kingstown School Department that allowed Thomas to have the teens undress for purported “body fat tests” that involved him touching close to their groin and having them do stretches naked.
McGuirl had issued recommendations to protect students, prevent predatory behavior, and hold officials accountable. She recommended changing the culture of the athletic department, improving how coaches are hired and trained, making sure police inform school officials when there is a complaint, and establishing a system for students to make complaints.
The Town Council had forwarded those recommendations to the School Committee.
But they were unsatisfied with the response so far. After hearing concerns from the lawyer representing former and current student athletes, the Town Council voted unanimously to ask the School Committee about counseling for former students and to demonstrate the school district had put new policies in place.
School Committee Chairman Gregory Blasbalg wrote on Sept. 20 that the committee had taken several steps to improve training for the entire school community on sexual abuse reporting.
Blasbalg said the school department was working with a consultant to update and revise policies. He also said it had added protective measures to athletic testing, such as revising policies governing how adults and students interact, training and professional development for students, teachers and staff on child-abuse reporting, anti-bias and anti-discrimination, with additional training for youth sexual abuse awareness, prevention, and communication.
Blasbalg also wrote that the school department will be training administrators on best practices for identifying, reporting, and responding to boundary violations, sexual abuse, and child abuse by anyone working or volunteering in academic or athletic programs. The school department will be using an app for coaches and athletes to communicate, and it has added an assistant athletic director’s position, for additional oversight and so athletes have another resource.
However, lawyer Timothy J. Conlon, who is representing several current and former athletes, said the official policies that Blasbalg spoke about had not been updated or don’t exist, according to the school department’s website.
Also, while the school department is offering counseling for victims, that only applies to current students, Conlon said. There is nothing available for former athletes who were affected by Thomas’ actions.
McGuirl had recommended that the counseling services be provided by a school counselor or a private counselor.
“Chairman Blasbalg sidesteps that recommendation and tries to keep all the counseling services in house with present students — effectively ignoring the fact that many students and their parents might not want to have to discuss these issues with an employee of NKSD, and none of the former students are going to come back to the school to see a school counselor for therapy,” Conlon said in a statement Monday. “I have repeatedly called on the School Committee to act on Judge McGuirl’s recommendation for counseling, and indeed suggested that before her report was submitted.”
Councilwomen Katherine Anderson and Mary Brimer both said they wanted clarification from the School Committee about what they were going to do to help former students in need of counseling. “I am a social worker, and I believe in counseling for students past and present,” Anderson said.