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Here’s what was in the 80-page report on naked ‘fat testing’ at a R.I. high school

"He would have been the last person that they would have suspected of doing anything like this."

Aaron Thomas, then-teacher and basketball coach at North Kingstown High School as seen in the 2010 yearbook. North Kingstown High School Yearbook 2010 / Globe file

A report offering a broad review of what happened at a Rhode Island high school where a popular basketball coach conducted naked “fat tests” on student-athletes for decades without consequence found that, in essence, he “got a free pass.”

“No one questioned him,” reads the 80-page report written by retired Superior Court Judge Susan McGuirl, who was commissioned by the North Kingstown Town Council to probe the circumstances surrounding the allegations against former North Kingstown High School coach Aaron Thomas to offer a legal analysis.

Some of his colleagues even referred to Thomas as the “golden boy.”

“Some teachers have indicated that of all the people who worked in the high school, he would have been the last person that they would have suspected of doing anything like this,” McGuirl wrote in the report, first covered by the Boston Globe on Monday.

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Thomas resigned a year ago after being placed on paid leave for several months following the accusations he had students strip down to partake in the so-called tests, alone with him in his office. He was hired later by Monsignor Clarke School, a Catholic school in South Kingstown, but was fired after the allegations were made public.

According to McGuirl’s report, the tests were usually done with calipers, and often involved Thomas using skin on the upper thigh near students’ genitals to perform the tests.

He asked each student the question (or some variation of it): Are you shy or not shy?

“I firmly believe that any reasonable person would say that this conduct was inappropriate, improper and not acceptable,” McGuirl wrote in her findings. “Whether it is the basis for any criminal charges or civil liability will be determined by others in court.”

Ultimately, McGuirl found that the school district, school committee, and the local police all failed students who were involved.

Here’s what to know about the report and its impact:

The testing took place in Thomas’s office, which had its own video monitoring system.

According to McGuirl, Thomas began his fat testing practice sometime in the early 1990s.

The closed-door testing initially took place in rooms near the gym but later shifted to Thomas’s office in the school’s communications lab, when a new high school was built in the early 2000s, the report states.

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Thomas’s office there was equipped with a closed circuit television system that kept watch on anyone approaching the door, McGuirl wrote.

Tests would usually begin with Thomas using the caliper to pinch skin on the upper body, before asking students if they were comfortable taking off their clothes, typically by asking the shy or not shy question, she wrote.

“Thomas would explain to the students that by taking off their clothes he would be able to get a more accurate reading,” the report reads. “About half of the former student-athletes that have made statements on the fat testing have indicated that they were naked. Thomas would then perform a pinch test on the inner upper thigh near the student-athlete’s genitals.”

No other adults were present during the tests.

Parents of students, however, were required to sign a permission slip before the tests were conducted, though the slips did not explain how the testing would be performed and were “fairly generic,” McGuirl wrote.

“Thomas’ testing has been described as an ‘open secret’ among the students, particularly many of the student-athletes at NKHS,” the report reads. “There were references from students that Thomas was known as, ‘Coach Shy or Not Shy.’ Some of the students assumed or believed that the coaches must have known about it, but there is no record that anyone discussed it or told it to any coach.”

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There was other testing for student-athletes at the high school each year, but fat testing was not part of that regimen, according to the report.

There were signs dating back to 2017, with a student reporting the testing practice to police in 2018.

In June 2017, the then-athletic director witnessed a student dressed only in shorts with Thomas in his office, according to McGuirl.

The situation struck the director as odd, but did not make him fear for the student’s safety, and he reported what he witnessed to an administrator, the report states. Thomas was ultimately instructed to conduct his testing as a team.

A year later, North Kingstown police were contacted by a former student who reported that he and his brother were made to undress during the tests at school. The complaints were consistent with allegations that surfaced later, McGuirl wrote.

The student gave authorities the names of 11 other students who would have information, but police could not reach them, according to the report. The student and his brother were not willing to file an official complaint, McGuirl wrote.

In September 2018, police filed the case as “pending further information” due to lack of evidence.

Around that same time, then-Superintendent Phillip Auger learned separately about the testing and met with Thomas and other school officials, McGuirl wrote.

During the meeting, school officials decided to purchase a body composition analyzer to end the need for manual tests and made changes to testing procedures to require two adults be present when tests are conducted, according to the report.

In January 2021, an anonymous tip to the FBI from a former student alleged Thomas was molesting students, the report states. The FBI contacted North Kingstown police, who, in turn, “took no action besides contacting the former student-athlete who made the original report in 2018, who did not respond to their outreach,” McGuirl wrote. Police did not notify school leaders about the tipster.

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Thomas was placed on paid administrative leave in February 2021 after school administrators were contacted by another former student with the allegations against him, the report states. Police then reopened their investigation.

The school district initially failed to report the allegations to the state, and never discussed what happened with students and their parents, the report says.

Before he could be fired, Thomas resigned on June 24, 2021, according to the report.

McGuirl also wrote the North Kingstown School District failed to report the allegations against Thomas to the Rhode Island Department of Education until July 2021. The district did not report the allegations to the U.S. Department of Justice.

Students and their families were also not informed of the situation.

“After the allegations were made in February 2021 against Thomas, he left on February 21 for ‘personal reasons,’ and then resigned in June,” McGuirl wrote. “No one from either the NKSD or NKHS spoke to the student-athletes on the basketball team or their parents about why Thomas had left.

“The next fall, at the beginning of the new basketball season, there were new coaches and once again no one spoke to the student-athletes or their parents about why there were new coaches in place.”

‘Too much trust’: The report found the school district failed to protect students and ‘took no meaningful action’ when complaints were made.

McGuirl’s report lays heavy blame on the school district for allowing the testing to continue, considering it was an “open secret” for over two decades.

Even after one administrator witnessed Thomas’s testing in 2017 and schools received a complaint about the tests from a former student in 2018, no investigations were launched, according to the report.

“When it was reported to them, they took no meaningful action and did not follow-up when there were complaints made,” McGuirl wrote. “The NKSD had the ability to address allegations of abuse by staff towards the students, but they failed to do this.”

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The North Kingstown School Committee launched its own investigation into the allegations in February 2021. That report, with findings that informed McGuirl’s report, was given to the committee in June that year. But the district did not inform the public about it, according to the latest report.

“It is questionable whether without the public and press inquiries about Thomas’ subsequent employment at another school that the report would have been made public,” McGuirl wrote. “It is also unknown whether another report would have been ordered without the public criticism.”

In the district, there appears to be a “protection mentality which is insensitive to certain complaints and ineffective at responding to them,” she wrote.

Thomas’s success in the school’s athletic programs and stature led to no questions being raised about his actions, McGuirl wrote, adding there was “too much trust, not enough questions.”

“Coaches are not trained and do not seem to have an awareness of boundaries and warning signs or of their responsibility to question and report misconduct,” the report states.

In her recommendations, McGuirl wrote the school should change the culture within the athletic department and update hiring and training protocols for coaches, including clear instruction and education on boundaries with students. There should also be a system to allow students to lodge complaints or question “anything that makes them feel uncomfortable without fear of retaliation,” the report states, among other recommendations.

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McGuirl urged for swift action.

“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,” she wrote. “It is time for the School Department to admit their failings, make changes and move on.”

The North Kingstown Town Council voted unanimously to accept the report. One councilwoman said the review left her ‘sickened.’

The extensive report was presented to the Town Council on Monday, where council members voted unanimously to accept it, according to The Boston Globe.

Councilwoman Katherine Anderson said the report “sickened” her.

“The judge over and over used the term ‘normalized,’ a culture and system was allowed where this was normalized,” Anderson said. “We have our work cut out for us to make sure this isn’t normalized.”

At the moment, the Rhode Island Attorney General’s Office and the U.S. Department of Justice are conducting investigations into the allegations surrounding Thomas, whose teaching certificate has been suspended pending those investigations.

Several former students have retained legal representation from attorney Timothy Conlon, who has so far filed a civil lawsuit for one of those clients against Thomas, the school district, and administrators.

“It was reassuring to see that, to a person, the members of the town council seemed to recognize the magnitude of the problems that Judge McGuirl has documented and seem committed to tackling it,” Conlon said on Monday, according to the Globe.

Conlon’s clients felt validated by the report.

“They are really struck by the fact that Judge McGuirl nailed the culture issue and the way the school failed to make the students feel like their protection was a priority,” Conlon said. “For so long, the question was, Why didn’t students say anything? … Judge McGuirl documented how well-established it is in the literature, that these things go under the radar when it’s normalized and when you’re in an environment with subtle hints that the way you feel about these events isn’t taken seriously.”

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Read the full report:

Ri Judge Mcguirl Report (1) by Christopher Gavin on Scribd

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