A North Texas community is demanding answers in the wake of shocking revelations that a school bus driver got away with sexually abusing two little girls for the entire 2021-2022 school year—and that district officials covered up the crimes for months after they were discovered.
They’re also calling on their elected school board trustees to suspend the superintendent until they get those answers.
Prosper Independent School District parents are furious that news reports about a lawsuit filed by the abuse victims’ family on August 25 were the first they heard about their children possibly being exposed to a molester who was identified and arrested in early May.
The parents say a statement issued one week ago by the board in response to publicity about the crimes “doesn’t pass the smell test” and increases their suspicions about board members’ complicity in the administration’s cover-up.
Parents Demand Transparency and Accountability
On August 29, distraught parents, teachers, and residents packed the Prosper ISD school board meeting expecting—or at least hoping—to hear some explanation of how this could happen and what actions the board would take to hold the people responsible for the scandal accountable, starting with Superintendent Holly Ferguson.
Instead, after trustees and the superintendent spent an hour and a half in a closed-door meeting with attorneys, Board President Drew Wilborn read a “prepared statement” on behalf of all seven board members that raises more questions than it answers:
We understand and share the community’s outrage over the allegations that a former Prosper ISD employee sexually abused 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. We regret that, in light of litigation on this matter, we cannot share more information about this investigation or the allegations in the lawsuit.
Texas school boards are trained to “speak with one voice” and operate as a collective along with the superintendent as a “Team of Eight.”
“Something stinks,” said one Prosper parent after listening to the statement.
Who Knew What, and When?
Key elements of the board’s statement raise serious question about what actions were taken by the superintendent and her team (including Prosper ISD’s internal police department), when Ferguson informed the board about the scandal, how truthful her information was, and whether the board’s statement itself was truthful.
It is undisputed that Ferguson and others knew about the sex abuse allegations from the time they were reported in early May, and it is undeniable that she failed to inform the community, leaving them to learn about the scandal from the media.
Either board members also knew and they participated in hiding the scandal for months, or Ferguson failed to inform the board about serious criminal allegations that may have involved other victims and that opened the district to a multimillion-dollar lawsuit—an omission that is the opposite of acting “professionally and ethically.”
Board members and Ferguson know the answer, but they aren’t talking.
Investigation “Ongoing” Since When?
The first assertion that didn’t pass parents’ smell test is that the board had already launched an investigation.
If the board did not know about the scandal prior to learning about the August 25 lawsuit, then how did they “retain an independent firm” and initiate an investigation they described as “ongoing” just days later?
The August 29 board meeting was the first since news broke about the lawsuit four days earlier. Texas’ Open Meetings Act prevents board members from conducting business outside a publicly noticed meeting, even if the business takes place in a closed session, and it requires board actions to be taken in open session.
Either the board’s statement about an “ongoing” investigation was false, or the board knew about the allegations before the public found out and kept them hidden—although it’s still unclear when the board would have voted to initiate an investigation and hire an investigator.
Parents also asked why the district didn’t reveal who is conducting the “ongoing” investigation so they can assess how “independent” the firm is. (Nearby Allen ISD announced the name and firm of the attorney who will be conducting an investigation into their recent scandal involving a middle school teacher accused of sex crimes against students that the district failed to notify parents about.)
A media inquiry about Prosper’s purported investigation was referred to Wilborn, who already stated the board will not comment.
Parents Not Notified
Even worse than the Prosper community being kept in the dark, families of children who rode the bus driven by the accused molester have contradicted the board’s “understanding” that district administrators communicated with parents.
Two moms directly refuted the board’s statement during the August 29 meeting, saying the district never communicated with them or other 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,” said Prosper mom Lindsey Rios, referring to now-deceased bus driver Frank Paniagua, the “former employee” who worked for the district until his crimes were caught and reported in early May. (He was arrested and booked into Collin County Jail on May 11 and died a month later from injuries sustained after plummeting two stories while in jail.)
“Why was I never contacted that my child could have potentially come in contact with a child molester?” Rios asked. “Is your reputation more important than our children?”
“I’m here to speak up for the families that don’t feel comfortable being here today,” said Morgan Grahovec, a mother of two children who attend the same school as the victims did. “[Families] that spent this weekend in a state of utter terror, hysteria, and distress because we were never notified.”
“We were not notified,” she repeated to the board, adding that the administration’s silence prevented other potential victims from being identified.
“I’ve been told the school is trying to take the position that they told all of the other parents on the bus what had occurred. That is absolute nonsense,” attorneys for the victims’ family told WFAA, adding that more families are coming forward every day.
Trustees Put a Finger on the Scale for Ferguson
Finally, the board’s claim that they “have confidence” the superintendent and other district administrators “handled this incident professionally and ethically” raises the question: “Based on what information?”
Was the 90-minute closed meeting with Ferguson and attorneys just before issuing the prepared statement enough time to assess the facts of the months-long sex abuse case, or were trustees already aware of the “incident” and helped hush it up?
The statement of “confidence” also gives the appearance that board members have pre-judged the case in favor of Ferguson and reached a conclusion prior to any investigation.
That only increased parents’ ire and their suspicions that board members are complicit in the cover-up.
The district has yet to release any information beyond the board’s questionable prepared statement.
Trustee Garrett Linker, who was elected in May and sworn into office shortly after Paniagua’s arrest, posted a personal statement on Facebook the day after the board meeting, saying he would be “closely monitoring the results” of the investigation “with a great focus on transparency and accountability.”
“It is my hope that at the end of the investigation, and when the findings are released, our community will have full confidence in our district,” he said.
The board hasn’t yet said if they will make the findings of the purported investigation public.
In any case, Prosper citizens have said they expect more than a report produced by as-yet unnamed lawyers, hired by a board that has already expressed confidence in the actions taken by the subjects of the investigation—especially given what parents describe as the district’s culture of sweeping under the rug any news that tarnishes the image of Prosper ISD.
Prosper Citizens Respond to District’s Failures
On Thursday, Prosper Citizen Group PAC repeated the call for Ferguson to be suspended while her actions are under investigation.
The local advocacy group called the district’s response to the crimes “reprehensible.”
The allegations that Prosper ISD Superintendent Dr. Holly Ferguson encouraged the family to keep the incident quiet and failed to inform other parents of children who rode the same bus are unconscionable. These allegations are consistent with a pattern of silencing whistle-blowers and covering up issues that might tarnish the District’s image.
Prosper ISD Board of Trustees have few explicit duties—hiring and firing the superintendent is chief among them. Their failure to act here is a dereliction of their duties to the citizens who elected them. The families in Prosper ISD will have no relief until there is a demonstrated measure of accountability for this horrific situation. We must be assured of a truly independent and transparent investigation with the results being released to the public.
We echo the sentiment of the community and call for the immediate suspension of Superintendent Ferguson and any other District official who had knowledge of the situation and was complicit with the silence.
Some in the community have gone further, calling on Ferguson to resign or be fired from her lucrative superintendent position. Under a new contact agreed to in January and effective July 1, Ferguson earns $310,000 per year (a 19 percent increase over her previous salary of $260,000) plus benefits, and she received a 2022 performance incentive payment of $60,000.
Families across the Prosper ISD community are demanding transparency and accountability from the district’s elected officials and taxpayer-funded bureaucrats to whom they entrusted their children.
“We ask the public to continue praying for the children and their families, and for the Board of Trustees to have the courage to act,” the Prosper Citizen Group statement concluded.
Concerned parents can contact their elected Prosper ISD school board members with any questions about the scandal (although the board has indicated they don’t intend to provide any answers) or to request they take further action.