UPDATED September 4 with the superintendent’s current salary and contract.
A community shattered by revelations that a local school district employee sexually abused two little girls came together Monday night and united against the officials who covered up the crime—something many parents say is a pattern here.
“We’re all here because we feel like our trust has been broken,” local mom Casey Merkling told trustees at the Prosper Independent School District board meeting on Monday. That sentiment was shared by many of the 30 parents and community members who spoke to the board during public comments.
“Dr. Ferguson, you must resign,” said Prosper ISD dad Christian Rivera to loud applause from the capacity crowd of over 200, with a line of more people waiting outside to get in. “Everyone who knew and didn’t take any action to keep our kids safe must also resign.”
Yet Prosper ISD trustees said they have “confidence” Superintendent Holly Ferguson and other administrators handled the situation appropriately, but added that an independent investigation is “ongoing.”
It’s unclear when the board initiated the investigation into the scandal.
The school board met Monday for the first time since news broke late Thursday about a bus driver who molested two sisters, ages 5 and 7 at the time, more than 100 times over the course of the last school year. The girls’ family is suing the district for more than $5 million for failing to protect their children from the sexual predator, who was arrested in early May and is now dead.
Prosper parents are furious the news reports were the first they heard about their children’s possible exposure to a molester who was identified and arrested months ago.
“It takes three months to give us a comment on what took place?” Prosper ISD dad Mike Bennett asked the board.
Rivera said the community deserves to know when Ferguson knew about the abuse allegations, when the board was informed, what steps were taken at that time to protect kids, and what the district is going to do now.
“We know it’s not a matter of money,” he said. “It’s a matter of will and accountability.”
Most of Rivera’s questions went unanswered Monday night. Instead, after an hour and a half in closed session with attorneys, Board President Drew Wilborn read a prepared statement:
We understand and share the community’s outrage over the allegations that a former Prosper ISD employee sexually abused two students. It is our understanding that Prosper ISD administrators took swift action upon receiving a complaint about this former employee, and that these actions included communications with law enforcement officials, CPS, and parents in the district.
Although we have confidence that Dr. Holly Ferguson and her team have handled this incident professionally and ethically, the board has retained an independent firm to investigate this matter. This investigation is ongoing.
Wilborn’s statement suggests the board initiated an investigation prior to Monday night’s meeting, though it’s unclear when the board voted to approve such an investigation or the hiring of an outside investigator, who has yet to be identified.
“We regret that in light of the litigation on this matter, we cannot share more information about this investigation or the allegations in the lawsuit,” Wilborn concluded.
Prosper mom Lindsey Rios refuted Wilborn’s claim that the district had communicated with parents about the sex crime allegations against the bus driver.
“My son rode the bus to and from school on Mr. Frank’s route during the 2021 year,” Rios said, referring to the driver charged with assaulting the two little girls after bus surveillance video allegedly confirmed the crimes. “Why was I never contacted that my child could have potentially come in contact with a child molester? Why was I never told any of these things?”
“Is your reputation more important than our children?” Rios added. “You guys are elected officials. … Do you feel like you are doing your job”?
Morgan Grahovec, a child psychologist and mother of two children who attend the same school as the victims, also refuted the claim that affected parents were contacted.
I’m here to speak up for the families that don’t feel comfortable being here today … that spent this weekend in a state of utter terror, hysteria, and distress because we were never notified.
We were not notified. This could have been avoided by sending a simple email to the community back in May saying that you notified the families. … Instead, we had to find out three months later and missed crucial time to screen other children for sexual abuse.
“We need accountability for why we now have additional potential victims,” she added.
Multiple parents brought up Prosper ISD’s history of covering up campus crimes to protect the district’s image.
Logan Bains, a father of two children in Prosper ISD, said he brought a similar issue to the administration in January of 2022 regarding his daughter and a teacher of the opposite sex.
Bains said district official Jeff Crownover “did everything he could to justify the situation” and “sweep it under the rug.”
“Parents put our trust in school districts to keep our kids safe, and that’s not possible when there’s no transparency,” he said. “How many more things need to be swept under the rug before this administration’s reputation will come second to our children’s well-being?”
“And keep in mind y’all are elected, not appointed,” he added.
Prosper ISD mom Tiffany Kearney reminded board members of the district’s 2015 attempt to cover up sexual malfeasance, in which school administrators admonished teacher MariBeth Thomas for reporting a student’s claim of sexual advances by a teacher’s aide to the Prosper police instead of to the district’s own police department.
“WE (administrators) are the PD,” an associate principal was recorded telling the teacher.
Following an investigation by the Texas Education Agency, then-Prosper High School Principal Greg Wright surrendered his State Board for Educator Certification license, but he was later hired as a principal at Prestonwood Christian Academy in Prosper.
Noting that Ferguson worked in the district at the time, Kearney told the board on Monday that if the 2015 incident hadn’t been “swept under the rug … you would not now have two children assaulted.”
“Prosper ISD has a long history of trying to sweep things under the rug,” said Holly Draper, who asked the board to identify who was conducting the investigation and commit to making the results public. “That culture must be changed.”
Prosper mom Samantha Kim also asked who is conducting the investigation and whether the results will be made public.
“Because if you don’t share the findings, no one is going to trust you,” Kim said. “And right now, we feel betrayed and we have no faith. You need a follow-up statement giving us a little more clarity on this investigation.”
Doug Charles, who heads the local advocacy group Prosper Citizen Group PAC, encouraged the board to use current policies to suspend the administrators involved while they are being investigated and to change district policy so the Prosper ISD police report to the sheriff, not the school board.
“I agree there is a culture of silence and intimidation,” he added.
Former Prosper ISD student Gill Davis also said Ferguson should be suspended during the investigation and “removed of her quarter-million-dollar salary instantly.” According to the TEA, Ferguson’s base salary for 2021-22 was $260,000. Under a new contact agreed to in January and effective July 1, 2022, Ferguson now earns $310,000 per year (a 19 percent increase) plus benefits and received a 2022 performance incentive payment of $60,000.
Kristin Hecker, an attorney with McCathern Law who is representing the family, told Texas Scorecard last week, “Prosper ISD was willfully blind, ignored the warning signs, and now they’re trying to cover it up. We just want to make sure this never happens again and people are held accountable.”
The firm is holding a meeting today to help parents whose children may be potential victims.
Concerned parents may contact their elected Prosper ISD school board members with any questions.
Texas Scorecard will continue to highlight questions raised by parents, teachers, and the community and publish the answers.