A group of parents declaring “Protect our children, not the district” gathered Monday afternoon for a peaceful protest against Prosper Independent School District’s months-long cover-up of a sex abuse scandal at their children’s elementary school, which shattered the community’s trust in district leadership.

Families say they still have yet to be contacted by anyone from the district or the school about their kids’ exposure to an accused child molester.

Since the scandal became public almost four weeks ago, local moms and dads have been demanding accountability, transparency, and action from the district to ensure kids are kept safe and parents are informed in the future.

Why Parents Are Protesting

“The district and the school breached their duty,” parents wrote in a list of grievances and expected outcomes sent to the district and distributed at the protest. “It’s their responsibility to inform, not to be silent when bad things happen.”

Protesters held signs across from Rucker Elementary, the school where bus driver Frank Paniagua was accused of sexually assaulting two little girls for most of the 2021-2022 school year.

Paniagua was arrested and charged on May 10 with “continuous sexual abuse of a child,” a first-degree felony, but the Rucker moms who organized Monday’s protest say Prosper ISD officials never notified them that their children were exposed to a molester.

Parents learned about the scandal from news reports about the $5 million lawsuit filed August 25 by the family of the two girls, ages 5 and 7 at the time.

The girls’ mother said Prosper ISD Superintendent Holly Ferguson told her to keep quiet about the abuse “so as not to attract media attention to her family or Prosper ISD staff.”

“We are frustrated and disappointed,” protester Kandia Chastain, a mom of three Rucker students, told Texas Scorecard. “This happened back in May. What if it happened today?”

“This is not a bus transportation issue,” she said. “This is a Prosper ISD leadership issue.”

Another mom called for Superintendent Ferguson and Rucker Principal Marisol Balderas to resign immediately. “We trusted you can help us (the parents) build the foundations of integrity, but you failed us.”

Peaceful Protest Billed as “Potential Situation”

The night before the protest, the district sent an email warning Rucker families about a “potential situation” that might require the school to be placed in “secure status,” adding there would be “additional police officers present.”

Parents were surprised at what they considered an alarmist message and questioned why they didn’t receive a similar email notifying them about an accused child molester at their children’s school.

Multiple Town of Prosper and Prosper ISD police vehicles were on the scene Monday as a few dozen parents, mostly moms, stood across the street from Rucker and held signs from 1:00-2:30 p.m. (as the pick-up line was forming but before students were released). Town of Prosper police also positioned a surveillance tower and a rooftop sniper at a business across from the school.

Transportation Update

Late Friday, Prosper ISD families also received a “transportation update” outlining “bus safety updates” the district says Prosper ISD police plan to implement in response to parents’ demands.

The updates include having officers oversee bus drop-offs and review an hour of bus footage a day.

Parents say the changes are a start, but much more needs to be done. For example, multiple sources note that Paniagua had access to the bus surveillance video and route-tracking systems.

They also note the district could have avoided parents’ protests and possibly a costly lawsuit by telling the truth and making changes immediately after the family of the “Janies” (as the two girls are identified in the lawsuit) reported the abuse in May. Arrest documents show officials within the Prosper ISD Police Department and Collin County Sheriff’s Office reviewed bus surveillance video of Paniagua and the girls.

Monday Night’s School Board Meeting

Messages from concerned parents and community members continued at a crowded Prosper ISD school board meeting on Monday night. The scandal wasn’t on the agenda, but parents spoke during public comments.

“The failure to protect these two little girls is infuriating and heart-breaking,” said Prosper ISD mom Michelle Johnson, one of several parents who called on Superintendent Ferguson to resign. “Ms. Ferguson, the buck should stop with you.”

“The email you sent out attempting to deflect to Ms. Balderas was tone-deaf,” she added, referring to a message Ferguson sent to Rucker families following a special meeting on September 13 that defended Principal Balderas but still failed to acknowledge the sexual assault allegations or the district’s cover-up.

You and anyone else who had a hand in this cover-up need to resign immediately. I don’t trust your leadership or your desire to put our children’s best interests ahead of the ISD’s reputation.

The Rucker moms and their children received moral support from Dallas Cowboys legend Randy White, a longtime Prosper resident. He posted a message on social media last week backing the parents’ protest demands and attended Monday night’s meeting.

“This is my first school board meeting,” White told Texas Scorecard. “I stand with the kids 100 percent.”

Also at the meeting were Prestonwood Baptist Church pastor Connor Bales and Raising Cane’s executive Tommy Van Wolfe, rumored to be a future school board candidate. Both wore “I Support Prosper ISD” stickers, signaling support for the current administration.

Among the district’s high-ranking officials who are Prestonwood members are trustee Bill Beavers and Prosper ISD’s Chief of Administrative Services Jeff Crownover (whom Ferguson just requested to devote more time working with her as the board hired its own legal counsel). Prestonwood Christian Academy hired ex-Prosper High School principal Greg Wright after he lost his job and state certification for participating in a 2015 attempt by Prosper ISD to cover up allegations of sexual misconduct.

“I’m all about the team. I’m all about PR and how this high school looks,” Wright said in a conversation recorded by then-Prosper High School teacher Maribeth Thomas.

A few parents did speak up Monday night for the district’s leadership, complimenting Ferguson’s past performance and saying they trusted the board and would wait for the results of the independent investigation.

Rucker moms say the district has broken their trust and point out the administration said and did nothing to protect kids for four months, until the scandal became public.

Concerned community members can sign a petition calling for full accountability and suspension of Ferguson while an independent investigation of her response to the sex abuse allegations is ongoing. They can also contact their elected Prosper ISD school board trustees with questions or to request they take action.

Erin Anderson

Erin Anderson is a Senior Journalist for Texas Scorecard, reporting on state and local issues, events, and government actions that impact people in communities throughout Texas and the DFW Metroplex. A native Texan, Erin grew up in the Houston area and now lives in Collin County.