UPDATED August 26 with comments from the family’s attorney.
Parents are suing Prosper Independent School District over allegations their daughters, ages 5 and 7 at the time, endured months of sexual abuse at the hands of a bus driver.
The parents say the district failed to protect the girls and then covered up the crimes, which administrators and district police have known about since early May.
The girls’ mother also says Superintendent Holly Ferguson suggested she keep quiet “so as not to attract media attention to her family or Prosper ISD staff.”
According to the Dallas Morning News, the lawsuit filed Thursday in Collin County alleges bus driver Frank Paniagua sexually assaulted the sisters more than 100 times between September 2021 and May 2022:
According to court documents, Paniagua inappropriately touched the younger sister under the guise of helping her buckle and unbuckle her seat belt. He would make sure she was the second-to-last student off the bus – before her older sister – and gave her a piece of candy before she left, the lawsuit alleges.
After the younger sister exited, Paniagua would assault the older sister for three to five minutes at the back of the bus before she got off, the lawsuit says. He told administrators that she was always late getting off the bus because he was helping her pick up trash.
The lawsuit notes that multiple district employees noticed the 7-year-old girl was repeatedly kept on the school bus alone but did not report the behavior. It also says only one employee was assigned to monitor bus drop-off.
All the incidents occurred on Paniagua’s bus while it was on district property and were captured on bus surveillance footage, according to the lawsuit.
The report also says district officials never notified the parents of other students who rode Paniagua’s bus after the abuse was reported on May 7.
“This is every parent’s worst nightmare, and apparently it’s all captured on video,” said Kristin Hecker, an attorney with McCathern Law who is representing the family.
And apparently no one in the district looked at the bus surveillance videos for an entire school year.
The district said Prosper ISD took “swift and thorough action” after being made aware of the allegations.
Yet a Prosper ISD parent shared a message from a teacher that backs up claims the administration wanted the scandal hushed up to protect the district’s reputation. The message, originally included here with the author’s permission, has since been removed because the teacher—like so many others—is reluctant to speak out for fear of retaliation.
“Prosper ISD was willfully blind, ignored the warning signs, and now they’re trying to cover it up,” Hecker said. “We just want to make sure this never happens again and people are held accountable.”
The victims’ family is seeking more than $5 million in damages from the district for failing to protect the girls.
Paniagua, 61, was arrested May 11 and charged with aggravated sexual assault of a child, continuous sexual abuse of a child, and indecency with a child by sexual contact. While in Collin County jail, he jumped from a second floor and later died from his injuries, the Dallas Morning News reported.
The sex abuse scandal may have contributed to the district’s back-to-school bus driver shortage.
Prosper parents say they heard rumors on social media that many drivers had left the district because of how the superintendent handled the scandal, though all the details still weren’t known.
When the school year started on August 10, the district’s bus service was in disarray. Many students were left stranded for hours as buses failed to show up as scheduled.
Ferguson waited a week to address the problem, finally saying in a message to district parents, “Regarding transportation, we missed the mark.”
The lawsuit suggests a far bigger miss that could cost Ferguson her job.
It’s unclear if the district’s elected school board members knew about the sex abuse scandal or the cover-up.
The school board’s next scheduled meeting is Monday, August 29.