Prosper Independent School District is facing another federal lawsuit, this time for failing to accommodate a student’s disabilities.

The district and its superintendent, Holly Ferguson, are already defendants in a federal suit alleging Prosper ISD failed to protect two elementary school girls from months of sexual abuse by a bus driver and then covered up the crimes.

Prosper ISD’s latest legal troubles center around Jocelyn Spence, a student athlete who just graduated from Rock Hill High School.

Jocelyn’s parents, Jamie and Greg Spence, say they are “disgusted and saddened” that local high school staff discriminated against their learning-disabled daughter in apparent violation of federal civil rights laws and district policies.

But the Spences are even more disturbed by how Prosper ISD administrators responded, and failed to respond, to their complaints.

“They are not going to sweep this under the rug,” Jamie told Texas Scorecard.

Federal Civil Rights Complaint

Jocelyn has ADHD and central auditory processing disorder, learning disabilities that require schools to provide reasonable accommodations under Section 504 of the federal Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

She played on Rock Hill’s softball team during her sophomore and junior years.

But she decided not to play her senior year after Prosper ISD administrators failed to address her family’s complaints that coaches had not only not provided Jocelyn the accommodations she was entitled to under the law (spelled out in her 504 plan), but had also harassed, bullied, emotionally abused, and retaliated against her.

“I couldn’t be near the program anymore,” Jocelyn said in a recent interview with The Dallas Morning News.

Now the family is pursuing federal litigation against Prosper ISD with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights and has filed for discovery of evidence in the form of documents held by the district.

Prosper ISD officials denied that they discriminated against Jocelyn but said they couldn’t comment further due to federal privacy laws. The district also withheld documents from the family, their attorneys, and the media, citing privacy as well as state laws that allow government entities to hide public information pertaining to pending litigation.

Local Grievance Process

Before pursuing a federal complaint, the Spences first exhausted the local grievance process within Prosper ISD and then filed an appeal with the Texas Education Agency.

The local grievance process involves three levels, with hearings that escalate up the district hierarchy from campus administrators to the superintendent to the board of trustees.

Texas school districts routinely put parents through all three levels of the process, only to deny any responsibility or relief.

“The Spence case is another example of how broken and useless the grievance processes and TEA generally are when it comes to any kind of oversight over school officials,” education law attorney Janelle Davis told Texas Scorecard.

Davis, who is also a Prosper ISD mom, helps families like the Spences navigate the school grievance process.

“The Spence family spent months trying to work with Prosper ISD officials,” Davis said. “And then they tried to use the grievance process and were shocked to see the complete lack of any real investigation into their allegations. Then the district violated its own grievance procedures, which the school board then used as a reason to do nothing to help them.”

Following district policy, the Spences attempted to resolve what they saw as violations against their daughter via the prescribed process.

They filed their initial Level 1 complaint on July 28, 2022. District officials were supposed to investigate before scheduling a conference, but Jamie said “not one parent was questioned,” and the family’s complaint was dismissed.

On August 28, the Spences appealed, filing a Level 2 grievance with the superintendent. Holly Ferguson failed to even respond, as did her Chief of Administrative Services Jeff Crownover.

On September 18, Jocelyn’s parents moved forward with a Level 3 grievance, taking their case to the school board. Jamie said some board members seemed to listen to her concerns, but all voted against the grievance. One insinuated that Ferguson strong-armed them to dismiss the complaint.

The Spences’ TEA appeal is still pending.

“Most parents have no idea that when they appeal to the TEA, they are entering what is essentially a quasi-legal proceeding with lawyers representing the school district,” Davis said.

Parents have to hire lawyers to help them fight the district while also paying for the lawyers hired by the district to fight against parents.

Other Complaints

Other Prosper parents have spoken with Texas Scorecard off the record about how badly district administrators have handled their grievances.

“The problem with going on the record is, they will retaliate!” said one Prosper ISD mom. She said transparency is lacking and “Ferguson cares more about image than the children.”

Multiple moms filed grievances against a Prosper High School cheer coach. Their complaints were dismissed by the district, but the coach later disappeared from the district’s staff roster after families received a message that he would “no longer be the head cheer coach.”

“How hard would [it] be to do the right thing, and as soon as they become aware of something terrible, to put a stop to it, let parents know, with some answers and solutions of how you will prevent [it from] happening again?” a local dad asked.

“Stop covering for the ones covering up terrible things,” he said. “Make things right! Apologize, fix the problem, put our children first, and be honest with us parents and this community.”

Jamie Spence said she had talked to other Prosper parents with similar experiences, but she didn’t believe it was this bad.

“They were right,” she said. “What’s gone on has been horrendous.”

Although Jocelyn has now graduated from the district and is looking forward to college, the Spence family refuses to allow another Prosper ISD problem to be swept under the rug.

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.