NORTH KINGSTOWN — Elected public officials on the North Kingstown school committee, who learned six months ago about allegations of sexual molestation and harassment of athletes by a former coach, could not fully explain reasons for a six-month delay in releasing a report given to them.
The Independent posed detailed questions about the delay given the serious allegations in the report, but only a few officials responded and none would go into any depth on the reasoning.
Lisa Hildebrand, vice chairperson of the school committee, offered only scant details about why the elected school committee’s investigation was kept from parents, students and the community for so long after June 18 when the committee received it.
“The School Committee did not release the Phase 1 investigation report until last week because the investigation is ongoing. As a result of (a public records request) from the media, the school committee decided that the release of the report would not jeopardize the remaining part of the ongoing investigation.”
Asked about a responsibility to parents, present and former students affected and the community to making the report available sooner, she replied, “This is a serious issue and the only consideration given to the timing of the release of the Phase 1 report was the APRA (Access to Public Records Act) statutory timing…”
She also said that the upcoming holiday week, when attention might be drawn away from this report, was not a factor in releasing it now.
The report revealed that allegations against former coach Aaron Thomas were even more severe than initially reported – with one anonymous former student accusing the coach of sexual molestation. The report also revealed that school officials had discussions about his possible inappropriate behavior as far back as 2017.
The report given to school officials on June 18 by attorney Matthew Oliverio, who reviewed emails, statements provided to police and interviewed 13 people. It contains detailed descriptions of the coach’s alleged actions as reported by anonymous former students.
“Since the age of 13, he (an unnamed student) was sexually molested by Mr. Thomas on a quarterly basis during his high school years,” the report alleges.
“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,” Oliverio wrote.
“Mr. Thomas poses a potential threat and liability to the North Kingstown High School community if he were to continue in the employment of the School District.”
Some local residents say the report should have prompted school officials or town council members to make a full and transparent public disclosure.
Oliverio also questioned the truthfulness of comments by Thomas, who told school officials there were never any tests done naked.
In addition to the delay in releasing the report, the committee’s timing of the release around a busy holiday week and into New Year’s drew questions from some officials and residents about whether the committee was seeking to downplay the issues within.
Asked about those issues, Gregory Blasbalg, school committee chairman, would not answer questions. He also refused to answer directly to The Independent why notifications to parents, students and former students did not start immediately after the June report.
In addition, he would not discuss reasons why a hotline was never established right away to take reports from current and former students and why there was not meeting of all high school teachers to learn about any common knowledge regarding these naked “fat tests” happening.
He would only refer to a written statement he gave a week earlier. He told The Independent, “ I have no further comment at this time.”
Members of the town council, which recently voted 3-2, to hire a former superior court judge to review and assess any investigations into the Thomas allegations, were asked if they had any comment on long delay in releasing this report.
Town Council member Katie Anderson, saying the public deserves timely access to complete information, would not comment on the fact that the release was not timely and did not identify what “timely” meant.
“I will refrain from speculating or accusing until I am in full possession of the facts,” although the question to her dealt only with the school committee’s six-month delay in releasing the report.
Other town council members were equally mum on opinions about a six-month delay.
Council President Greg Mancini, who suggested the hiring of the former judge to review reports, would only say, “I will reserve judgment until after she completes her review.”
After the release of this report last Wednesday, The Independent wrote last Friday to each elected official on the school committee and town council.
It asked about the reasons for withholding for six months from the public, parents and students a report with such serious allegations. It also asked about notifications to parents, students and former students right after the June 18 report as well as efforts to solicit more information such as through a hotline and teacher meetings.
No detailed answers were given. In addition, school committee members Jennifer Hoskins, Jake Mather and Sally Schott did not respond with any comment and Jennifer Lima declined comment saying she was recusing herself from committee discussions on the controversy.
On the town council, Kerry McKay, Kimberly Page and Mary Brimer did not respond to requests for comments.
Write to Bill Seymour, freelance writer covering news and feature stories, at email@example.com.