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NORTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — The U.S. Justice Department has opened a civil rights investigation to uncover a chronology of events to show what North Kingstown School officials knew about a former basketball coach’s conduct around male teen athletes.

The move by the U.S. Attorney for Rhode Island, will look into the actions by school officials regarding Coach Aaron Thomas who is also alleged by some students to have sexually abused them in the manner of “fat tests” he did on them.

Several students in a complaint with the U.S. Attorney’s office said that they were naked and alone with Thomas during so-called “fat tests” on their bodies. This week, another student maintained that these naked tests were done alone with him even after top school officials claim they had stopped.

Federal officials are seeking various documents and communications that detail school officials’ knowledge as well as a time line provided through the documents.

“We write to notify you that our office has opened an inquiry into allegations that the North Kingstown School Department inadequately responded to reports of employee-on-student sexual misconduct,” Assistant U.S. Attorneys Amy Romero and Kevin Hubbard wrote to school officials.

Thomas was the varsity boys basketball coach for more than 20 years and a communications teacher at North Kingstown High School.

No public comments were made to explain his abrupt departure from the school last spring, and afterwards he applied to and was hired at Monsignor Matthew Clarke Catholic Regional School in South Kingstown. That school terminated him after multiple media outlets broke stories about Thomas’s accusers.

Some people close to the matter also said that at the time of his resignation, Thomas had reported he would be moving to Texas, and officials believed that the issue would go away

Timothy Conlon, an attorney for several students alleging psychological distress from the tests, said, “As stated in our complaint, Superintendent Auger on October 30, 2021, cited the former coach’s resignation as: ‘ending any further action by the North Kingstown School Department.’

While at North Kingstown High School, Thomas was alleged to have brought boys into a private office and asked them if they would get naked in front of him by saying, “Are you shy or not shy?”

John MacDonald, a lawyer representing Thomas repeated again Tuesday, “Aaron Thomas adamantly denies any unlawful conduct. He fully cooperated with the North Kingstown Police investigation.”

In a release of an internal investigation the school committee received last June – and released under pressure by media requests in December – a former student reported that “since the age of 13, he…was sexually molested by Mr. Thomas on a quarterly basis during his high school years.”

“Although he denies penetration while being fat tested, he claims that the coach would often use his fingers by lifting his genitals, run his fingers between his anus and genitals on the pretense of checking for hernia, while breathing heavily in his face,” the report said.

New Allegations

Conlon this week filed with the R.I. U.S. Attorney’s Office a complaint in which one student maintains the “fat tests” alone with Thomas continued after Schools Superintendent Philip Auger said he put a stop in 2018 to the practice.

This new and recent allegation of continued inappropriate tests, even though officials said they stopped, was made in the complaint filed Monday by Conlon on behalf of five former students. He also said that for a few weeks he also has been discussing with federal officials “my clients’ cooperation with that investigation.”

“Rhode Island has statutory and regulatory processes for reporting teacher misconduct, but the earliest known report to the public agency charged with management of the schools in Rhode Island occurred only after Thomas had moved on,” Conlon said is a letter Monday to Assistant U.S. Attorney Kevin Hubbard.

He also alleged that:

Thomas had inappropriate contact with students through personal emails and text messages to them.

A computer hard drive with students’ “fat test” results is missing.

Thomas used digital video equipment that was set up such that he could monitor persons approaching the room in which his tests were performed.

“Finally, and leaving aside whatever personal interests led Thomas to create a private testing network for communicating with these students about testing, during at least some of the period that Mr. Thomas was collecting this data, he did so in the course of and in concert with a for-profit endeavor,” Conlon maintained.

The attorney said that it was done “at the behest of then Athletic Director Keith Kenyon, a former superior administrator at NKSD, who had an interest in that commercial enterprise” for which no consent was given by students or their parents for use of the data that was presented as “John Does.”

Kenyon could not be reached for comment.

Federal, Other Investigations

This federal civil rights investigation is occurring as the state attorney general’s office does its own on criminal matters.

Greg Blasbalg, school committee chairman, told The Independent Tuesday, “It is the duty and responsibility of the U.S. Attorney to investigate claims like this, just as the North Kingstown Police Department has done and as the Rhode Island Attorney General and School Department continue to do in separate investigations.”

“As I have stated before, we feel it is critical that our own investigation continues to the fullest extent possible. The North Kingstown School Committee will continue to fully cooperate with all investigations, to ensure that all details of the matter are documented and fully reviewed,” he said.

He also noted that the committee is awaiting the completion of its phase 2 investigation by Attorney Matthew Oliveiro before taking any additional actions as a district.

In addition, the town council hired retired Superior Court Judge Susan E. McGuirl to conduct a review of Oliveiro’s report into any inappropriate behavior by the former coach.

Democratic council members Greg Mancini, also council president, Kate Anderson and Kim Page voted to hired the former judge to do the review. Republicans Kerry McKay and Mary Brimer opposed the appointment, arguing that the Town Council should launch an independent investigation.

Conlon in his complaint quoted a statement from Brimer at a town council meeting.

“I’m a parent, I have a 21-year-old, and I can’t come up with any justifiable excuse that a minor would be naked with a teacher behind closed doors...there is nothing that you can tell me...it stops at being naked,” she said.

“There is no reason in the world for that to have happened at school. Nor would it have ever occurred to me as a parent to ask my child ‘did you get naked at school today?” she said.

Write to Bill Seymour, freelance writer covering news and feature stories, at independent.southcountylife@gmail.com.

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