Parents in scandal-plagued Prosper Independent School District want to know what happened to an “independent investigation” into last year’s shocking sexual abuse and cover-up for which no one in the district has yet been held accountable.
Prosper ISD’s board of trustees said in January that the investigation they commissioned last September, looking into a bus driver’s months-long molestation of two elementary school girls and district administrators’ failure to notify parents, was complete.
Yet attorneys representing Prosper ISD say the district has no record of the investigation.
At Monday night’s school board meeting, Prosper dad James Pope told trustees he sent the district a public information request on February 2 asking for a copy of the investigation’s findings, redacted as necessary, or an explanation of why the information was being withheld.
Lucas Henry, an attorney with the law firm Abernathy Roeder Boyd Hullett, responded:
After a diligent search, the District was unable to locate any documents responsive to your request and considers this request now closed.
A similar information request submitted by another parent received an identical reply.
The attorney’s responses did not indicate that the public was not entitled to receive the information, but that no such information was found among the district’s records.
“When you receive a response like that, it definitely raises questions,” Pope told trustees.
The first question Pope raised, in an email to trustees, is whether investigators actually created a written report of their findings. He has yet to receive an answer.
The board was briefed on the investigation’s findings on January 23, raising the question of whether trustees are in possession of information that is not accessible via a public information request to the district, or if investigators retained documents in order to evade such requests.
Henry also told both parents to “direct all future questions and concerns regarding this matter to me at LHenry@abernathy-law.com,” bypassing the district’s public information request system.
The investigation sought answers to how a Prosper ISD bus driver was able to molest two little girls for almost an entire school year, even though the bus was equipped with surveillance cameras; why Prosper parents didn’t learn their children had been exposed to an accused child molester until months later, from media reports and not the district; and why the district failed to implement new bus policies aimed at protecting students until the public learned about the scandal and pressed for changes.
Bus driver Frank Paniagua was arrested in May 2022 on charges of continuous sexual abuse of a child victim under 14 and died in June from injuries sustained from a reported suicide attempt while in jail.
The sex abuse allegations were publicly exposed in late August 2022 when the victims’ family sued the district—more than three months after Superintendent Holly Ferguson and other administrators learned of the abuse.
In September, Prosper ISD trustees authorized the law firm Thompson & Horton to conduct an independent investigation, after parents pushed back against the board’s plan to let the litigation attorneys defending the district in the lawsuit also handle the review.
Four months later, a report from Thompson & Horton regarding their independent investigation finally appeared on the agenda for the January 23 board meeting.
Parents hoped the report would provide some answers.
Instead, then-Board President Drew Wilborn—who resigned days later after being arrested for indecency with a child—read a prepared statement saying the investigation was complete but the board wasn’t prepared to release any information:
The investigation included what occurred, the district’s practices, and the district’s communications. They have now completed their investigation. In light of ongoing litigation concerning Frank Paniagua’s misconduct, the board will need to consult with litigation counsel regarding whether we can make any public statements about the Thompson & Horton investigation.
During a special board meeting on February 7 to address Wilborn’s resignation, trustees consulted in closed session with the board’s litigation attorneys regarding the sex abuse lawsuit. Yet later in the meeting, trustees made no mention of the investigation or whether any information would be released to the public.
Pope says the public paid for the investigation and he believes the findings should be made public.
Latest in the Lawsuit
The original lawsuit filed on behalf of the Janies (as the young victims are called to protect their identities) detailed the horrific abuse they endured at the hands of Paniagua and claimed Ferguson suggested the girls’ mother keep quiet “so as not to attract media attention to her family or Prosper ISD staff.”
The most recent version of the complaint was filed in federal court in December.
The judge has yet to rule on the motions.