UPDATED February 8 with results of Tuesday night’s special school board meeting.
After their school board president quit under a cloud of criminal sexual misconduct charges, trustees in scandal-plagued Prosper Independent School District decided to appoint someone to his vacated seat rather than allow the community to elect a new trustee.
“I didn’t think it was possible to lose more faith in our school board members,” said one Prosper mom following the board’s vote. “They proved me wrong.”
In January, Board President Drew Wilborn was arrested for indecency with a child by sexual contact and quickly resigned.
At a special board meeting on Tuesday night, the remaining six trustees voted 5-1 to appoint a replacement, but will wait until after the May 6 school board election so the next board can make the appointment.
The board’s appointee will serve the remainder of Wilborn’s term, which runs through May 2024.
Since more than one year remains in the term, the board had a choice to fill the vacancy by appointment or by ordering a special election. By state law, a special election would have been held on the next regular election date on May 6. The board has 180 days to fill the vacancy.
Prosper dad James Pope was among the parents at Tuesday’s meeting asking trustees to call an election for the vacant Place 7 seat.
“This community has been rocked. The lines between right and wrong have been blurred,” he said. “I’m for letting the people decide.”
“We do not trust you to choose a replacement,” Prosper mom Shelly Creel told the board. “Please show some real respect for the people… If you appoint, it shows that you want to continue to cover up.”
For months, the Prosper ISD community has been rocked by scandals that have shattered trust in the district.
Shocking revelations started last August, when parents learned that a bus driver sexually abused two little girls over the course of an entire school year and district officials hushed it up for months until the victims’ family sued.
Fallout from the scandal continued to erode trust, as no one in the district was held accountable for failing to protect students from a child molester or trying to cover up the abuse.
Some in the community didn’t want voters to choose the new trustee.
Prosper ISD teacher Janette Church asked trustees to appoint a previous board member to fill the vacant spot.
“Elections don’t always get it right,” she said Tuesday.
Janie Oyakawa added, “We do not want to risk the district falling to rage-filled extremists.”
The two sides circulated competing petitions on the issue.
One group of local families, We Are Prosper 2023, started an online petition calling for a special election.
“Appointing someone to fill this vacancy would undermine the will of the people and deny us our right to have a say in who represents us,” according to their petition.
Another group, Parents of Prosper ISD, then started a petition asking the board to appoint a replacement “who would not run for the position in the future but is willing to serve the remainder of the term in order to establish the stability our community desperately needs.”
Trustee Garrett Linker cast the lone vote against appointing someone to the vacant school board seat. Linker moved to call a special election, but no other trustee seconded, killing the motion and any discussion on the merits of the issue.
The six trustees also selected new officers: Debra Smith as board president, Kelly Cavender as vice president, and Bill Beavers as secretary.
Two Prosper ISD school board seats are on the May ballot. Incumbent Dena Dixon and Aimee Boots have announced they are running for Place 2; Jim Herblin, Kurt Kuehn, and Tommy Van Wolfe have announced for Place 5, currently held by Debra Smith. The candidate filing deadline is February 17.
Meanwhile, in documents filed last Thursday (here and here) in the sexual abuse lawsuit, the plaintiffs’ attorneys challenged legal arguments for dismissing the case made by attorneys representing Prosper ISD and Superintendent Holly Ferguson, who are each named as defendants in the lawsuit.
“Surely the law does not allow a supervisory school employee like Dr. Ferguson to avoid liability for undisputed violations of a student’s clearly established constitutional rights simply by claiming that she ignored proof of student sexual abuse in her actual possession,” the attorneys wrote, referring to bus surveillance video and GPS tracking data the district routinely collected.
On Tuesday, the federal judge hearing the case granted the district’s and Ferguson’s motions to delay their next response until February 23.