Target 12 on WPRI.com

School allowed coach to ‘cultivate an open secret’ around naked fat tests, complaint to feds says

Target 12

NORTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. (WPRI) – A second former student has come forward in a new federal complaint with allegations that he was naked and alone with former North Kingstown High School basketball coach Aaron Thomas for so-called “fat tests” in the years after school administrators claim they addressed the issue.

The new accusation was detailed in a complaint filed by five former students with the Rhode Island U.S. Attorney’s office on Monday. The students’ attorney, Timothy Conlon, used the complaint to take direct aim at the North Kingstown school district.

“The North Kingstown School Department allowed Mr. Thomas to cultivate an open secret among the students and community of North Kingstown regarding his naked ‘fat testing’ of students,” Conlon wrote. “For over 20 years, the Department allowed Mr. Thomas to remain in his coaching and teaching positions while he used those positions to groom students into the widespread acceptance of his practices.”

The once-celebrated boys basketball coach has been accused of sexual molestation and inappropriately directing underage students to strip naked alone with him behind closed doors for body-fat tests since the mid-1990s.

North Kingstown Superintendent Phil Auger has defended the school district’s efforts in the past, claiming he and other school officials took action to address an allegation of his misconduct against Thomas in 2018. At least two students have since come forward — including a new person cited in the federal complaint — claiming the inappropriate behavior nonetheless continued.

“Auger claims to have put an end to these practices in 2018, but [the two students] specifically assert that they were alone and naked with Thomas for ‘testing’ long after that date,” Conlon wrote in the complaint sent to Assistant U.S. Attorney Kevin Hubbard.

One of the student said he was “put in ‘sex positions’” as part of the tests, Conlon added. When asked what that meant, Conlon told Target 12 the coach’s behavior “accelerated” and became “more obtrusive” in the years after 2018. But he declined to elaborate.

Conlon argued the district failed the students by not taking action to allegations over years, effectively enabling the behavior and leaving it up to former students to make their cases through news coverage. Thomas’s alleged behavior was the subject of a months-long Target 12 investigation that focused on the interviews of nearly a dozen former students, parents and town officials who had either experienced the naked fat-testing firsthand, or were aware of the behavior.

Thomas, who is also the subject of a separate criminal investigation led by R.I. Attorney General Peter Neronha, has not been charged with any criminal offenses, and he’s argued through his attorneys that he didn’t do anything unlawful. As Target 12 first reported last week, the U.S. attorney’s office has launched a civil investigation into the ongoing scandal involving Thomas.

Conlon’s complaint is the latest shoe to drop on the North Kingstown School District, and it lays the groundwork for what could become a civil lawsuit against the school district and its administrators in the future.

The attorney detailed what he called “patterns of conduct” among school and some town officials, arguing they ignored misconduct, failed to report, allowed Thomas to use his position for “inappropriate personal reasons,” and failed to inform parents about what happened.

Rhode Island adults are mandated under state law to report any child abuse or suspicion of child abuse to the R.I. Department of Children, Youth and Families, which didn’t happen in the Thomas case until after a former student explicitly laid out allegations against him in an email to administrators last February.

As Target 12 first reported, however, one former student told Auger about Thomas’s fat tests in 2018. And an internal investigation released in response to a public records request shows other top school officials, including Denise Mancieri, were made aware that Thomas was discovered in his office alone with a shirtless student in his office in 2017. Conlon said there was also another report in 2016.

The state wasn’t notified of any of those instances and parents were never notified, according to the complaint.

The R.I. Department of Education, meanwhile, has its own requirements that school districts report allegations of inappropriate teacher behavior. North Kingstown didn’t report Thomas to the state agency until last August, two months after the former coach resigned under a cloud.

“Thomas’ manipulation of students continued through at least 2019 and 2020, as did his practice of pulling children into normalizing his misconduct and thus unwittingly recruiting others with his rouse,” Conlon wrote.

The attorney also criticized Thomas for using his private email address to communicate with students, sometimes emailing them at their private email addresses. He claimed Thomas created “private, offline chain emails and formed group texts with dozens of students at a time.”

“During his tenure at NKSD, the Department lost all control over communication and boundaries as they relate to Thomas and his students, and lost control of the students’ educational and personal privacy,” he wrote.

More broadly, Conlon criticized the culture of educational institutions covering up teacher misconduct, allowing educators with checkered histories to bounce around to different districts without scrutiny. And he questioned whether any of allegations against Thomas would have become public if left up to the school officials at North Kingstown.

“Had the media not been alerted to the breakdown in enforcement systems that had occurred, and the public uproar that followed not ensued — would we even know today that these problems existed?” he wrote.

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

Tim White contributed to this report.

Copyright 2022 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Providence

Watch 12 on 12: The Mafia Tapes - Only on WPRI.com
PINPOINT WEATHER // Quick Links:

Dan Yorke State of Mind

DYSOM 1/21/2: Joe Cammarano, Political Science Professor, Providence College

More Dan Yorke State of Mind

Don't Miss

LIVE CAMS on WPRI.com

More Live Cams
Viewer Pa on WPRI.com

Community Events & Happenings

More Community