ORLEANS — According to a separation agreement signed on May 25, Keith Kenyon will get $135,000 for leaving his position as the Nauset Regional Middle School principal.
Kenyon, 62, was asked to leave his job at Nauset after being named in a lawsuit along with several former and current staff of the North Kingstown school district in Rhode Island. The suit accuses administrators there of failing to protect students from Aaron Thomas, a former basketball coach and teacher for three decades at North Kingstown High School. Kenyon hired Thomas and was the athletic director at North Kingstown for 24 years before arriving at Nauset in 2010.
There were three years remaining on Kenyon’s contract at Nauset. His annual salary had been $154,000.
Thomas was fired in February 2021 when several former students told the school that the boys varsity basketball coach had been conducting bogus “fat tests” during which he called students into his office alone, asked them to strip, and then touched them high on their inner thighs and groin, according to attorney Timothy Conlon in a lawsuit filed April 19 on behalf of a former student. The “fat tests” are alleged to have gone on for more than 20 years.
On May 25, Conlon added another former student’s name to the complaint against past and current administrators, according to the Boston Globe. The complaint alleges that “former school administrators and athletic directors created a culture that allowed coaches to behave inappropriately with students, and brushed off complaints,” the Globe reported.
Kenyon hired Thomas as an assistant basketball coach in 1989 and was his supervisor for the next 20 years, until Kenyon left the district in 2009. An independent investigation by attorney Matt Oliverio for the North Kingstown School Committee concluded that administrators did not know of the inappropriate nature of the fat tests — for example, that Thomas would ask his students “are you shy or not shy,” and then direct those who said “not shy” to take off their underwear — until 2017 at the earliest.
In 2017, Athletic Director Howie Hague noticed a lone shirtless student in Thomas’s office in a remote part of the campus and alerted the principal. Nothing substantial was done until 2021, however, when former students began coming forward, according to Oliverio’s report.
Oliverio also said he tried and failed to contact Kenyon as part of his investigation. Kenyon said he no longer used the phone numbers Oliverio dialed to reach him. He also said an email from Oliverio went into Nauset Middle School’s spam folder. Nauset Supt. Brooke Clenchy confirmed that such an email was found unopened in a junk folder.
Therefore, Oliverio’s accusation that Kenyon refused to cooperate with his investigation is false, Kenyon said. Kenyon has denied any wrongdoing, and specifically denied any knowledge of Thomas’s inappropriate behavior with students. But his attorney, Andrea Kramer, also said he clearly did not have support from Nauset administrators.
“At some point,” Kramer wrote in a statement, “after local reporters began asking about the situation involving the disturbing allegations against a former coach whom Mr. Kenyon supervised long ago and in another district, the superintendent initiated a discussion with Mr. Kenyon about an ‘off-ramp.’
“At that time, Mr. Kenyon, who had a contract, fully intended to honor his contractual commitment. It became painfully clear to Mr. Kenyon, however, that he did not have the support of the superintendent necessary to continue effectively in his position. Between that lack of support and the distraction caused by the lawsuit and the media coverage, Mr. Kenyon decided to pursue the possibility of voluntarily resigning in exchange for a buy-out of his contract,” Kramer wrote.
“The settlement reflects the fact that Mr. Kenyon had done nothing that would warrant his termination. He was sorry to go but staying did not seem tenable or a good thing for him, his family, or the students he cares so much about,” Kramer wrote.
Supt. Clenchy called the case a distraction that Nauset did not want to deal with.
“Mr. Keith Kenyon’s personal issues have become a distraction for the Nauset Public Schools, as he has publicly acknowledged,” Clenchy wrote in a statement to the Independent. “The school district recently determined that it was in its best interest to negotiate a severance agreement that ended Mr. Kenyon’s employment contract, which had three years remaining, and work towards establishing stable leadership at the Nauset Regional Middle School. This was successfully accomplished with the best interest of our students and staff at the core of our decision.”
Kenyon will receive $135,000 in biweekly payments through May 30, 2023. The separation agreement stipulated that Kenyon must leave his job on May 25 and use vacation time to cover his paychecks through June 30, when the school year ends.
Kenyon joins a list of school officials who have resigned since Oliverio’s March report and the filing of the lawsuits. North Kingstown Supt. Philip Auger and Assistant Supt. Denise Mancieri both resigned in March. They did not receive buyouts, according to Lisa Hildebrand, vice chair of the North Kingstown School Committee.
“No deals have been made with any of the school employees who left the district as a result of these reports — none,” Hildebrand said during the March 22 school committee meeting.
Mancieri was principal in 2017 when Hague, the athletic director, told her a young man wearing only athletic shorts was in Thomas’s office in a remote part of the school. Mancieri failed to follow up on this complaint, according to Oliverio’s report, and Auger did not provide proper oversight when the next complaint came in 2018.
According to extensive reporting in the Boston Globe, the North Kingstown School Committee has maintained that in 2018 a student told the school that Thomas was conducting “unusual” tests that made the student “uncomfortable” — but the student did not specifically alert the school that the tests involved nudity. At that time, the superintendent, principal, and athletic director told Thomas that any testing of students was to be done in the locker room with other adults present.
Conlon’s lawsuits allege that school administrators were also told by another student in 2018 that victims were in fact naked during the tests.
According to a statement in one of the lawsuits by a victim identified as John Doe 22, the warning from administrators in 2018 did not stop the “fat tests.” John Doe 22 was tested alone and naked during his freshman, sophomore, and junior years, from 2017 to 2019. The tests included getting into various stretching positions while naked, with Thomas putting pressure on the victim’s inner thighs and groin area with his hands.
“The abject failure and neglect of monitoring and oversight over Mr. Thomas’s conduct after September 2018 by the superintendent can logically be considered neglect of duty,” Oliverio wrote in his report.