North Kingstown Schools Superintendent Gives Seven-Minute Statement Detailing Aaron Thomas Investigation

North Kingstown, RI (WLNE) – North Kingstown School Department Superintendent Dr. Phil Auger gave a seven-minute statement regarding the investigation into former North Kingstown High School Basketball coach Aaron Thomas.

The former coach is under investigation by the Rhode Island Attorney General’s Office for the manner in which “fat checks” were conducted on student athletes at North Kingstown High. Some former students have accused Thomas of conducting the checks while the students were naked and alone with Thomas in his office. At least one former student has made an allegation of inappropriate contact.

During Tuesday’s meeting of the North Kingstown School Committee, Dr. Auger spoke publicly about the investigation for the first time. He gave a statement detailing what he says he knew, when he knew it and how he reacted.

Dr. Auger’s timeline mirrored much of the written statement released by the North Kingstown School Committee two weeks ago. Dr. Auger said, back in 2018, a former student told him that Thomas had conducted fat checks alone with him in his office. Dr. Auger said the student was not naked, but rather, was always wearing a towel or gym shorts. Dr. Auger said the former student did not allege any inappropriate contact had taken place. Rather, the former student said it was an uncomfortable situation. The school administration then held a meeting with Thomas.  Dr. Auger said Thomas denied ever having students naked in front of him. Dr. Auger said, as a result of that investigation, he told Thomas to only conduct fat tests in the locker room with clothed students and with two adults present. Dr. Auger said Thomas was also told to use a more modern measurement machine.

Dr. Auger said he heard nothing else about the matter until another former student, a 2006 graduate, came forward in February 2021. That student alleged that he was naked during a fat check with Thomas during his time at North Kingstown. Dr. Auger said the former student made an allegation of inappropriate contact. Dr. Auger said, within an hour of receiving that information, he suspended Thomas. Dr. Auger said he also contacted police, and he said he contacted the school committee to begin procedures to terminate Thomas. (The full text of Dr. Auger’s statement is below.)

The school committee did ultimately decide to terminate Thomas at the end of the school year. However, Thomas resigned before that termination would have taken effect.

Here is the full transcript of Dr. Auger’s statement on the Aaron Thomas investigation:

“I appreciate all that has been done by the committee thus far to review the matter involving the accusations against Mr. Thomas. I also appreciate the effort that went into their providing a statement and timeline to the community. At this point, I feel it’s important that I also address the issue with you. I am not only the superintendent of North Kingstown, I am also a member of this community and a parent of two North Kingstown High School graduates. I completely understand how the news you have received about this matter is troubling. I feel the same. When I first heard these claims, I was shocked and knew I needed to respond. I also understand that this community is justifiably concerned that I handled the information I received appropriately once I learned these matters. To that end, I want to share with you my account of the two occasions when I was contacted regarding Mr. Thomas and body fat testing. The first was in the fall of 2018. I received very limited information from a former student, who had attended 2006 through 2008. The former student knew me separately from the district but knew that I was the superintendent. On an occasion when we were together for other purposes, we mentioned to me that now that he was ten years past graduation, he was still confused as to why Mr. Thomas would do body fat testing so far away from the locker room area. He was concerned about being alone for the test. He described the program and told me that he was either in a towel or gym shorts for the test. The individual said he was not naked during the test but found the test unusual. Aside from feeling uncomfortable, the individual did not allege any inappropriate contact occurred at that time. I told him I also had concerns about what he told me and that I would address the issue with Mr. Thomas. Once I started asking questions, he clearly felt uncomfortable about talking in the first place. He refused to offer anything else and requested to remain anonymous. When I asked if there was anyone else I could talk to, he declined to do so. It was clear to me that this was not appropriate. I immediately reviewed all of the information provided to me with our school department attorney, and I set up a meeting with Mr. Thomas, Dr. Mancieri, then his principal, Athletic Director Dick Fossa and a union representative. In that meeting, Mr. Thomas acknowledged that he had conducted body mass and body fat tests going back to the late 1990s, even in the old high school building. He stated that he has often conducted these tests as a favor to students, that there was widespread knowledge of him doing so and that once he had an office in the new high school, he used the office in order to more easily enter data into his computer. When I asked him, he stated, unequivocally, that no one had ever been naked in front of him in one of these sessions. Based on information from that meeting, and unaware of any other allegation of any kind in all the time that I knew Mr. Thomas, I responded in what I felt was the most responsible way. I immediately directed Mr. Thomas never to meet with any student alone in his office. I directed Mr. Fossa that if more BFI or BMI testing were to be done, it would be using a more modern machine, similar to a scale, done publicly in a locker room with two adults present and at no time would students be naked in the process. I received notice from Mr. Fossa that he notified all coaches of the new protocol shortly thereafter. The next I heard of this issue was in February 2021, Dr. Mancieri, now the Assistant Superintendent, and I received word from a 2006 graduate of participating in the testing alone and naked with Mr. Thomas and alleged Mr. Thomas touched him inappropriately in at least one of those meetings. I immediately, within the hour, suspended Mr. Thomas and removed him from his coaching and teaching responsibilities. I also contacted the police and our attorney and the school committee to initiate further action resulting in his termination. The police have been conducting their own investigation. At that time, the school department hired attorney Matt Oliverio to conduct an investigation as well. I also called my 2018 contact again to ask for more information and ask if he was willing to speak further or provide names of others who would. He never returned my call or spoke with attorney Oliverio. In both of these instances, I recognized the seriousness of the matter and I acted appropriately and immediately in the best interest of students past and present with the information that I had at the time. If I had the 2021 information in 2018, I would have initiated the suspension and termination then. All of my actions are fully documented and done in consultation with our school department attorney. I have fully cooperated with the North Kingstown School Department investigation and with attorney Oliverio in his and will continue to do so. While I have denied requests for more information from parents and media based on employee disciplinary laws, and at the advice of our school department attorney, I feel that, at this point, with the information that is now in the public realm, I can speak more freely and feel it’s important to clarify these important points. That’s why I’m speaking tonight. I also want you to know that I feel it is important that our investigation continue to the fullest extend possible. I believe it’s important that our community understands that, so far, to my knowledge the only persons who have come forward with any information to attorney Oliverio were all students between 2000 – 2009. It is my understanding that Mr. Thomas’s testing of students dates back to the 1990s. He said so himself. The two incidents I responded to were both more than a decade old and happened before I worked for the school department. I expect that my actions in responding to this will continue to be reviewed, but I also feel it is important that any further investigation needs to include the several former superintendents, principals, athletic directors and students from all of those years. It is important that we learn as much as we can, particularly about how, under what conditions the testing was initiated and authorized in the first place and I encourage anyone with relevant information to come forward to the school department and/or to the police. I love the North Kingstown community and have given my heart and soul to this great school department in my ten years as superintendent. I do this work because I care about our children. I want our students to have a school experience where they know they are safe and they know they can trust an adult to oversee their education. And I am dedicated to doing whatever needs to be done to make sure we support our students, past or present, to process and to heal and to make sure that incidents like this never occur again. Thank you very much.”

 

John MacDonald, the attorney for Aaron Thomas, released a statement on Thomas’s behalf this week. You can read that statement here: https://www.abc6.com/attorney-for-former-north-kingstown-coach-aaron-thomas-adamantly-denies-any-unlawful-conduct/

Previous ABC6 coverage of this case:

https://www.abc6.com/former-north-kingstown-high-school-coach-under-investigation/

https://www.abc6.com/north-kingstown-school-committee-details-timeline-of-coach-aaron-thomas-investigation/

https://www.abc6.com/parents-protest-outside-north-kingstown-school-committee-meeting/

https://www.abc6.com/where-others-failed-to-act-we-did-current-employer-fires-former-north-kingstown-coach-who-is-under-investigation/

https://www.abc6.com/attorney-for-former-students-releases-statement-on-former-coach-aaron-thomas/

 

Categories: News, Regional News, Rhode Island