NORTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. (WPRI) — The North Kingstown School Department has placed a teacher on leave and opened an investigation after a family came forward earlier this week with allegations that the teacher acted inappropriately toward their underage daughter while serving as a coach.

Interim Superintendent Michael Waterman announced the decision in a notice sent to the North Kingstown school community late Friday evening. Waterman said the department took action after reviewing the allegations sent by the family’s attorney, Timothy Conlon, to Rhode Island U.S. Attorney Zachary Cunha’s office. Target 12 reported on Conlon’s accusations Thursday.

“I have taken several steps to ensure that I have all the information about this situation,” Waterman wrote, explaining that he’d put the teacher — who has not been named — on administrative leave beginning Friday.

According to Conlon, the former coach’s behavior included isolating the underage girl beginning in 2017, becoming “inappropriately fixated on her,” touching her without parental consent, and “stalking the child both within and without the school” when she was 12 or 13 years old.  

“Feeling uncomfortable with the coach’s attention, the child began to employ the kind of distancing strategies adult women might use to keep an unwanted suitor at bay,” Conlon wrote. “But as the child sought to distance herself from this coach, the parents reported that he … stalked her outside the school, going so far as to park his truck in the woods where she ran.”

Conlon also said the former coach’s pattern of behavior toward the underage girl wasn’t isolated. According to Conlon, another educator said the accused teacher made it “a practice over a number of previous years to single out and cultivate for ‘special’ attention young girls on his team.”

The girl’s mother also said her daughter told her that the coach made “crude sexual innuendos as the children worked out.”

“As the child backed away from the coach’s overtures, he also retaliated by shaming and ostracizing the child,” Conlon wrote. “She spent the better part of two years crying about going to school while the coach continued to teach and stalk her.”  

In addition to putting the teacher on leave, Waterman said the school district has again hired outside counsel Matthew Oliverio to conduct an internal investigation. Oliverio has already been hired twice over the past year to investigate allegations against a different former coach, Aaron Thomas.

Several former students have accused Thomas, a former high school boys basketball coach, of getting them to remove their clothes alone with him behind closed doors for so-called “fat tests” over multiple decades. Thomas, who is currently under criminal investigation, has denied any wrongdoing.

As a result of the Thomas allegations, however, the U.S. attorney’s office opened a civil rights investigation into whether the school responded appropriately to the allegations over the years.

Conlon — who is also representing a family suing the school district over the Thomas affair — said the new allegations against the second educator suggest there may be a broader problem inside the North Kingstown school district. On Saturday, Conlon said he would be reaching out to Oliverio and cooperate with their investigation.

He’s also been in touch with retired Superior Court Judge Susan McGuirl, who was hired by the North Kingstown Town Council to review the various investigations surrounding the school district.

“I can say on behalf of the family that we very much appreciate her attention to these problems,” Conlon said in a statement.

Waterman took over as interim superintendent earlier this year after former superintendent Phil Auger resigned abruptly amid criticism over his handling of the Thomas allegations.

Waterman noted that Auger had also reviewed the latest allegations against the unnamed teacher in 2019, which resulted in the teacher not being rehired as a coach at North Kingstown. The issue was also brought to the attention of School Committee Chair Gregory Blasbalg, according to Conlon, who said they failed to take action until the family said they would seek a restraining order.

The complaint the family filed with the school, he added, has been lost.

“With all of us now looking at this, we should get to the answer of why neither former Superintendent Auger or Chairman Blasbalg initiated these actions years ago, and how complaints of such nature can go lost,” he added.

Waterman said the district will continue to cooperate “until the investigations are complete and findings are released,” according to his letter.

Eli Sherman (esherman@wpri.com) is a Target 12 investigative reporter for 12 News. Connect with him on Twitter and on Facebook.