NORTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. (WPRI) — A new report examining the ongoing naked fat test scandal in North Kingstown takes aim at the local school district, suggesting leaders there failed to protect students and report the inappropriate behavior to state and federal officials.
The report was compiled by retired R.I. Superior Court Judge Susan McGuirl, who was hired by the Town Council earlier this year to review investigations into former high school boys basketball coach Aaron Thomas. Dozens of former students accuse Thomas of getting teenage athletes to strip completely naked behind closed doors for body-fat tests and other types of exercises over multiple decades.
The report didn’t reveal much new information about the circumstances surrounding the scandal, which has been covered extensively by news outlets and is the subject of criminal and civil investigations by state and federal law enforcement, respectively. But McGuirl concluded the district failed to protect students and called on school administrators to make a variety of changes to prevent something similar from happening in the future.
“There has been too much collateral damage among the students, faculty, staff, and North Kingstown community at large caused by the actions of one person,” McGuirl wrote in the 146-page report. “It is time for the School Department to admit their failings, make changes and move on.”
The report echoes many of the findings already outlined in two previous investigative reports, both compiled by Matthew Oliverio, an outside attorney hired by the North Kingstown School Committee.
McGuirl wrote that Thomas, who had been coaching and teaching at the high school since the early 1990s, had been conducting the naked fat tests over that period despite lacking any technical training.
Thomas — who has not been charged criminally and has denied any wrongdoing — would get the students to strip down to their underwear before asking them if they were “shy or not shy.” McGuirl said students would often answer “not shy” because getting naked fat tested was almost like a “rite of passage” in North Kingstown, and if they did, Thomas would direct them to strip down before using a caliper to measure their body fat on their upper thighs near their genitalia.
“I firmly believe that any reasonable person would say that this conduct was inappropriate, improper and not acceptable,” McGuirl wrote in the report, adding that whether it meets the standard of criminal charges or civil liability “will be determined by others in court.”
As for how the unsanctioned testing could happen without pushback for multiple decades, McGuirl said Thomas was able to normalize the routine and largely keep the actual testing and results secret from others in authority. As for the students, the testing was an open secret, with some calling Thomas “Coach Shy or Not Shy,” according to the report.
McGuirl called it “genuinely troubling” that students declined to report Thomas’s behavior to teachers, other coaches, faculty or the administration, suggesting young men are less likely to report sexual abuse.
“This is especially true when the abuse is perpetrated by a male, and has sexual overtones,” McGuirl wrote. “Young men consider abuse as a sign of weakness and to report that abuse would show the world their weakness.”
The retired judge also suggested that the school department has a “protection mentality, which is insensitive to certain complaints and ineffective at responding to them.” McGuirl said Thomas was seen widely as a “go-to guy” for questions about communication and presentations, and because he was well-liked “he got a free pass.”
“There appears to be concern about teacher’s rights and frustration with possible litigation and disciplinary hearings,” McGuirl wrote. “Those concerns seem to take priority over the protections of student rights and the development of procedures to deal with employee behavior.”
In another part of the report, McGuirl criticized the school department for not reporting Thomas’s behavior to the R.I. Department of Education until after he’d already resigned ahead of a planned termination in 2021. Thomas was subsequently hired at a Catholic school in South Kingstown, which fired Thomas shortly after Target 12 first reported about the naked fat tests last fall.
McGuirl outlined several pages of recommendations that she suggested could help strengthen policies around the hiring of coaches and protection of students that could help the community avoid a similar problem from happening in the future.
“The NKSD must immediately take measures to ensure that this does not happen again,” she wrote.
The Town Council was expected to discuss the findings during a regularly scheduled meeting Monday.