Mother’s Day marked a somber anniversary in Prosper Independent School District. That was the day, one year ago, that one Prosper mom learned school bus driver Frank Paniagua had been sexually molesting her two little daughters—just 5 and 7 years old at the time—for nearly the entire school year.
It would be more than three months before other Prosper ISD moms whose children rode the bus driven by “Mr. Frank” learned what happened—not from district officials, but from media reports about a lawsuit filed in August by the victims’ family.
One of those other moms, Eileen Riverside, began attending every school board meeting after the sexual abuse and cover-up became publicly known. At each meeting, she shared bits of her story, expecting—hoping—to eventually receive an apology from the district and an explanation for what happened.
After months of hoping and waiting, Eileen decided to run for Prosper ISD school board. She didn’t win, but she did get to share her story and possible solutions for making the district safer for students and more responsive to parents.
Here is the story Eileen has shared about her family’s experience.
In the January 2023 Prosper ISD board meeting, I shared this picture of my daughter. Every month, I share bits and pieces of my story. Maybe it’s time to share the whole thing.
I took this picture. Blurred in the background is my husband clutching our four–day-old infant.
People at the festival weren’t very kind, me taking my newborn to the street festival, but it was Eliza’s fourth birthday. The ONLY thing she wanted was to ride the oh-so-amazing school bus. She couldn’t wait until she could go to school like Daddy.
This is the picture I gave to Mr. Frank in 2021.
But wait, didn’t the abuse reported occur in May 2022? Yes and no.
It started in August 2021. It occurred every single day for these two girls until May 2022 when Frank was arrested, confessed, then “unalived” himself.
So, what sex offender have you heard of that starts every day, just suddenly?
The previous year, my daughter was frequently the last person off of Frank’s bus in the afternoon. As confirmed by other bus riders, she sat in the front seat with her other bestie. He helped her every day with her seat belt. He gave her treats in the form of candies, small squishy toys, etc. She helped to clean the bus infrequently. He was very complimentary of her.
I watched the bus app go off course (well, but there was an accident/traffic jam/train and rerouted); I watched the bus locator completely fail/turn off (it glitches sometimes); I watched the bus come home sometimes hours late (new construction causes terrible backups/route is subject to many obstacles since it’s so long).
Always a plausible excuse, but he was such a nice man! He was someone I talked to and had many a conversation with every day as I was required to meet the bus.
The last week of August 2022, I woke up to a text from another bus mom: “Did you see this? That was our driver!”
That led to a crazy amount of officers, officials, lawyers, administrators, and appointments.
Ultimately, since my daughter didn’t know what was happening, she can’t testify, and they don’t want to “ruin” her by pushing the issue.
The last psychologist told us, “Maybe she’ll remember those [repressed] memories, maybe she won’t. Right now, she’s bright, creative, and thriving. Maybe she’ll have lasting issues, maybe not. That is something you can work on when or even if the time comes. You have to learn to be ok with not knowing.”
How can you be ok with not knowing?
Actually, there’s no “not knowing.” After speaking with lawyers, other officials, and reading the court documents, there’s no doubt in my mind. This man may not have abused her every day or in a hugely, obvious fashion, but I’m convinced he used my daughter to learn what he could get away with and that no one would call him out.
It was after, when he became more brazen and with an older child, that he was caught. If a 7-year-old didn’t say something, amid adults and continuous taping video footage, he would not have been caught.
I’ll never forget what a Collin County officer said to me: “Well, he’s [passed], and that’s the most justice you could ever hope for. Others would give anything for the same privilege. We have living perpetrators we have to focus on; you got what you needed.”
Now, I alone face a school board that wants to pretend it didn’t happen. They made a motion to fully dismiss since they were unaware.
Unaware? No adults said anything. No cameras checked. Parents not given details. The few changes weren’t made until after September and a huge parent outcry.
The superintendent also tried to claim immunity as protected because she’s a school official and CAN’T be held liable.
So, let’s forget about the girls that were affected for life? Pretend it didn’t happen? I was staring holes into Board President Drew Wilborn as he read the statement that the private investigation was completed but they weren’t saying anything until they speak to their own lawyers.
Drew stared into my eyes as I poured my heart out at that podium multiple times, just for him to be arrested too.
It’s true I’ll never get the justice I want. I am thankful Eliza is showing minimum effects so far and that Frank is gone, or I’d have a husband in the slammer.
But I won’t stop fighting for more, better protections. I also won’t let the board get away with this notion that no one is at fault.
All of this was preventable. So, let’s stop it from ever potentially happening again.
From the beginning, what I wanted was an apology and a listing of everything they were doing to prevent it from ever happening again. We should learn from mistakes, but that won’t happen until we can admit one occurred.
Then, maybe I can forgive myself for giving a trophy of my child to a child molester. I didn’t know, so does that mean it didn’t happen?