NORTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. (WPRI) — Another high-ranking North Kingstown school administrator has resigned abruptly amid the ongoing scandal over naked “fat tests” that has rocked the community for months.
Assistant Superintendent Denise Mancieri announced her resignation in a letter Thursday addressed to the North Kingstown school community, explaining she decided to leave immediately instead of at the end of the school year as previously planned.
“The standards set to work in public education are high and they should be,” Mancieri wrote. “For those who know me, I believe you know my passion for students, their rights, and my ability to remove people from positions who are not doing right by our students. For the students, current and alumni, you have always been my reason for being an educator.”
Mancieri’s announcement comes just days after the North Kingstown School Committee released the second part of an internal investigation examining former high school boys basketball coach Aaron Thomas, who’s been accused by several former students of getting them to strip completely naked behind closed doors since at least the mid-1990s.
Once naked, several students said, Thomas would measure their body fat, make them do stretches and perform various exercises. At least one former student, who said he was tested while naked between 2017 and 2019, said the interactions became sexual, according to the report.
Through attorneys, Thomas has denied any wrongdoing and has not been criminally charged. The attorney general’s office is currently conducting a criminal investigation into the matter.
Mancieri, who was classmates with Thomas in the Seekonk school district, didn’t specifically name the former coach or the ongoing scandal in her letter. But she suggested it was time for her to move on so the district could heal.
“To support you in your healing I am moving my early retirement to today, effective immediately, to create space for the new administrative team,” Mancieri said.
She also praised the school’s athletic program, saying it could “rival any program in the state.”
“Our coaches commit more time to their players than some of their families see them during their season,” she wrote. “We have students that attend school, do well in their classes, just so they can play their sport. We have a community that feels so passionately about athletics, we have a new complex to show for it. We are more than the sum of our parts.”
Mancieri was the focus of intense scrutiny in the internal report released Monday. The investigation — led by outside counsel Matthew Oliverio — detailed how Mancieri was made aware about one student who in 2017 was found shirtless alone with Thomas in the coach’s office for fat testing, but that she failed to take action or look closely at what was going on.
“As for Dr. Mancieri’s reaction to the news … she was rightly troubled about the encounter with the student, but remarkably for the wrong reason,” Oliverio wrote in the report. “She never considered that the student was at risk for any harm … Instead, she was more troubled by the fact that the fat testing was taking place in his office, an academic environment, as opposed to the athletic facilities.”
Asked Thursday afternoon if Mancieri’s resignation was because of Oliverio’s report, her attorney Fausto Anguilla told Target 12, “You can draw conclusions you don’t need me to draw.”
“Right now, Denise needs to take care of her own health,” Anguilla added, saying she’s been on sick leave recently. Anguilla also argued that Mancieri quickly took action in early 2021 when a different former student emailed her to report his experiences with naked fat tests and Thomas.
“She immediately took actions to look into this to get people involved and really that was what precipitated the investigation in North Kingstown,” he said.
The 2021 email, however, was at least the third time concerns about Thomas and the fat tests were flagged to Mancieri.
In addition to the 2017 incident, another former student approached then-Superintendent Phil Auger in 2018 to say he was worried about Thomas and the fat testing. Auger told Mancieri and others, who together confronted Thomas. The coach said the testing was appropriate and they took him at his word, according to the report.
Oliverio also reported the parent of a former student told him she sent an anonymous letter to Mancieri in 2016, “alerting her to the fat testing.” Mancieri denied ever receiving it, however, and the mother said she didn’t keep a copy, according to Oliverio.
When asked if Mancieri has been interviewed by law enforcement or R.I. Attorney General Peter Neronha’s office, Anguilla said “on the advice of counsel, she is not going to be giving any interviews.” Mancieri cooperated with the Oliverio investigation.
Mancieri is the second top administrator to resign amid the ongoing scandal. Last week, as Oliverio was preparing to deliver his report, Auger stepped down unexpectedly, saying the district needed to move on without someone with ties to the former coach.
Oliverio’s report came down hard on Auger. “The abject failure and neglect of monitoring and oversight of Mr. Thomas’ conduct after September 2018 by the Superintendent can logically be considered neglect of duty,” Oliverio wrote.
Auger’s announcement was met with criticism from parents, who accused Auger of leaving before school officials had the chance to fire him based on the findings in the latest report.
Anguilla said he didn’t know whether the school district was planning to take any job action against Mancieri because of the report, and School Committee Chairman Gregory Blasbalg declined to comment on whether the committee was seeking to fire her.
“While we originally planned for her June 2022 retirement, we will use these next few months to work collaboratively with Interim Superintendent Michael Waterman to support our students, staff and families of the North Kingstown School District and our search for permanent leadership at the district,” he said in a statement.
School Committee member Jennifer Lima declined to comment specifically on Mancieri’s departure, but she said “employees must be given notice of the intention to discuss disciplinary matters.”
“If they quit before the meeting is scheduled, we cannot stop them,” Lima explained. “We can’t force someone to remain an employee. Due process is always the right thing to do, even if it feels wrong.”
Thomas, who worked as a coach and teacher for nearly three decades, resigned ahead of his own termination last June.