NORTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — Even now, as a 21-year-old college student, she feels anxious when she talks about what happened at Davisville Middle School.
She remembered the large classroom, near the end of a hallway, and the teacher she’d been warned about. The way he intimidated the 12-, 13-, and 14-year-old students. She remembered feeling afraid and wondering who would be his target during class.
Would it be one of the students who, like her, were shy and trying their best? He treated them with contempt, she remembered, telling them in front of others that they’d never be good enough.
Would it be one of the girls he coached? They were often his favorites, but still he gave them nicknames and teased them in front of others, sometimes using innuendoes that at 12 and 13 years old she didn’t really understand. He seemed to be flirting, she said. After practice, she’d see him massaging the girls’ legs and feet.
“As an adult, you can recognize that these behaviors are very inappropriate,” she said. “And as a child, you’re just stuck there in the moment and you don’t know what to think, especially when it’s coming from someone who you are supposed to trust, someone who’s supposed to help you learn and grow.”
In an exclusive interview with The Boston Globe, the young woman described her experiences as a student at Davisville Middle School, where the veteran teacher of whom she was terrified is now the subject of an internal investigation as well as an ongoing investigation into the school department under Title IV of the Civil Rights Act. She requested to remain anonymous.
The investigation began in January, after a complaint to the US Attorney’s Office that the former boys high school basketball coach, Aaron Thomas, had been conducting “naked fat tests” of teen boys since the mid-1990s and that school officials had ignored his conduct. Soon after, families came forward about another teacher at the high school and this teacher at Davisville.
Parents had accused the Davisville teacher of stalking their pre-teen daughter while he was coaching her in 2018. The family alleges that then-Superintendent Philip Auger and School Committee Chairman Gregory Blasbalg were slow to respond in early 2019 — until the mother said she was going to seek a restraining order.
The teacher was then removed from coaching in North Kingstown, but continued teaching at Davisville, and he went on to coach in two other school districts
In 2021, some of his students thought the teacher was being a “creep” to the girls in their class. The young boys started a log of the teacher’s behavior in a Discord channel they called the “Pedo Database.” Those notes are now part of the investigation. Interim Superintendent Michael Waterman placed the teacher on administrative leave this spring. The teacher has not been publicly identified and has not responded to several requests for comment.
She didn’t know that the teacher was under investigation until she read the Globe’s exclusive story about the boys’ database. The boys’ descriptions of their teacher’s inappropriate behavior were eerily familiar.
“I could just kind of hear it in my head. It was kind of when you’re recalling a dream or a nightmare,” she said. “The things that he said, all of it just lined up. And I just had this gut feeling and a terrible feeling, like dread, that this was the same teacher that had harassed me all those years ago.”
The young woman, who is in the process of becoming a pre-school teacher, told the Globe she’s often thought about how what she experienced in middle school left an indelible mark. She decided to share her story with Timothy J. Conlon, the lawyer representing students in North Kingstown, and with the Globe. Her statement is now with the US Attorney’s office, the state Department of Children, Youth, and Families, the state Department of Education, and the North Kingstown internal investigator.
“I feel heard,” she said. “I feel like the words that I spoke were taken seriously for the first time in a long time.”
The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
I’m an early childhood education major, so sometimes in my classes we discuss some of the old teachers that we have had and how perhaps their old methods of teaching are not exactly up to par with what we are taught today. I would always give the example of [this teacher]. I would just say that his criticisms weren’t constructive. They were mean, rude — demeaning is the better word for it. And they were not meant to lift their students up. They were meant to put them down, because in my opinion, I believe that that was a source of pleasure to him. He had this power over the students.
I heard about him in fifth grade, through neighbors and friends. They would always tell me stories about how there was a mean teacher who taught this one class, but I really enjoyed the subject. I wanted to continue, even if he was mean. Then, sixth grade happens, and the rumors that I had heard turned out to be true and even worse than I had expected.
It was tense. Very, very tense. It was just a feeling in the air as soon as you walked into his classroom where it’s just on your shoulders and on your back, just creeping there, the whole class. It’s almost as if you’re on edge just waiting, waiting, waiting. And I was not one of his favorite students, no matter how hard I tried.
One of his specialties would be calling out a student in particular and sort of picking on them in front of the entire class... The night before his class, I would just be lying on my bed, my stomach churning and not being able to sleep... just kind of extremely anxious. It would just be something that I dreaded all day. ... In the class before [his], it would be hard for me to focus, because I would just be so worried. And even during his class, my brain would just be running so fast, almost on autopilot, where I would just be trying to get through it as quick as possible. Try not to mess up, try not to be noticed. Do your best to just blend in.
I would think, “Oh my God, I’m a failure. I can never get out from this. I’m not good enough. I will never be good enough.” That’s the message that he gave to his students. I mean, when there’s a teacher telling you that, it must be right.
I think [my parents] they didn’t really understand the extent of what was going on. They knew that there was a teacher who their daughter didn’t like, and you know, every student has that one teacher who doesn’t like them. But I don’t think they understood that it was more than just not like, it was a fear. It was a dread. It was just something that I was terrified of. And no students should ever have to be afraid of their teacher.
I think for parents who are out there, and especially in North Kingstown, it must be very, very scary right now. We’re hearing about the school district that we’ve trusted for so long, and it’s difficult to decide where we need to turn as a town and school district. And I believe truly that starts with listening to our children, listening to what they say, how they feel, what their thoughts are, and just do your best to sort of validate those feelings. As a parent, teacher or anyone, just someone who’s there to give them guidance, I think the most important thing we can do is validate those feelings and try to work through them.
I think that if I felt like my experiences and my feelings with [the teacher] were valid, I would’ve been able to talk about it more.
From the outside, it really does seem like a really great school district, but I feel like the school climate is in definite need of some improvement. I think that we really need to take into account these students’ thoughts, what they feel needs to be changed. Like, what should we keep doing? What should we not keep doing? You know, the students who go to these schools are the most important. It’s our job as teachers, as educators, to help them move through their lives.
He gave me a really good example of what not to be. I have students who sometimes scream in my face. You know, they’re 3-years old, and they scream, and they’re kicking, and they’re crying. And I have never, ever spoken to them the way that [this teacher] used to speak to me and my classmates... I don’t want to say that I’m proud, because that should be the standard. But I will not allow myself to become a teacher like he was.
I know other kids that are at the schools as well, and I just want it to become a better place for them. I want them to be excited to go to school. I want them to have those equal opportunities that other school systems get. And the best way to create a good school is to create that positive climate. It starts with the students.
More stories about misconduct at North Kingstown Schools
- Another North Kingstown coach accused of inappropriate behavior with underage student
- North Kingstown superintendent places middle-school teacher on leave, orders investigation after stalking allegations
- 2 more North Kingstown coaches were inappropriate with students, lawyer tells US attorney’s office
- The middle school boys thought their teacher was a ‘creep.’ So they tracked how he treated the girls.
- Students who kept ‘pedo database’ heralded as heroes while experts say the middle school failed them
- Another former student accuses R.I. middle-school teacher of misconduct, abuse, and harassment
- ‘Worst teacher I ever had’: Former Davisville Middle School student speaks out against former teacher
- What you need to know about North Kingstown High School Coach Aaron Thomas and the ‘fat test’ issue