Parents in Prosper Independent School District are about to learn more about last year’s trust-shattering sex abuse scandal and cover-up. At the upcoming school board meeting, they hope to learn whether anyone in the district will be held accountable for a now-dead bus driver’s months of molesting two little girls while on school property—or for the administration hushing up the scandal after they learned of the abuse.
Monday night’s Prosper ISD school board meeting agenda features a long-awaited report on an “independent investigation” of the sexual abuse and cover-up that was first publicly exposed last August by a lawsuit filed by victims’ family.
School board trustees are also set to consider a new contract for Superintendent Holly Ferguson, who has headed the district since the 2020-21 school year.
Ferguson has been under fire since news about the lawsuit revealed horrifying details of the sex abuse and how the superintendent allegedly told the victims’ mother to keep quiet to protect her family and the district from media attention.
Prosper parents were shocked that they first heard about the allegations through media reports more than three months after administrators learned of the sexual abuse last May.
Multiple moms whose children rode the same bus as the victimized girls say they were never warned about their kids’ exposure to an accused child molester, contrary to district officials’ claims.
It’s now been more than four months since the board authorized law firm Thompson and Horton to investigate the whole affair. The board had intended to rely on attorneys defending the district against the lawsuit to also act as “independent” investigators, but backtracked in response to public backlash.
Thompson and Horton is also currently conducting superintendent searches for McKinney ISD and Kerrville ISD, whose superintendent was just hired by Northwest ISD—a spot Ferguson interviewed for in December.
Other information not widely circulated but certainly known to district officials is included in amended versions of the sex-abuse victims’ lawsuit, now pending in federal court after the district had the case moved from state court in late September.
The latest complaint names Ferguson as a defendant, along with the bus driver’s estate and the district’s former Transportation Director Annamarie Hamrick.
New allegations accuse Ferguson and the district of “drastic measures to further cover up the allegations and prevent information from being discovered,” including changing Ferguson’s email address and directing “all district computer storage offsite at an undisclosed location.”
The amended complaint also references past sex abuse allegations within the district and a 2020 complaint about inappropriate behavior by another bus driver toward a young girl that was handled by moving the driver to another route.
In court filings last week, both the district and Ferguson claimed governmental “immunity” from any legal responsibility for the abuse or cover-up.
In Ferguson’s motion to dismiss the suit, her defense attorneys argued that “nobody at Prosper ISD knew” that the bus driver was harming the girls until the parents notified the district on May 7.
The girls’ parents say that’s the problem: “Prosper ISD did nothing at all” to protect their daughters, identified in the lawsuit as Janie Doe 1 and 2, or the other children under bus driver Frank Paniagua’s supervision.
According to the lawsuit, there were several red flags. Rucker Elementary School employees noticed Paniagua was keeping the girls on the bus alone but failed to look into why, even though the district had surveillance video and GPS tracking data for the bus he was driving.
The Janies’ attorneys say “multiple parents” have since come forward with concerns that their children may have also been victims of Paniagua.
In a separate filing aimed at dismissing the parents’ lawsuit, Prosper ISD attorneys argue that district officials can’t be expected to know what is on surveillance videos:
Given the massive amount of information in the District’s possession, it is not plausible that an [sic] any administrator, much less the District’s Board, learned of any such facts or pattern of behavior merely because bus videos and GPS information were allegedly in the District’s possession.
The district’s attorneys, who are also representing Ferguson, say the girls’ parents failed to make any “fact specific allegations that the Board learned of a pattern of abuse and looked the other way” or “failed to take action.”
How will any of this information affect Ferguson’s new contract, which the board will be considering in a closed session on Monday night?
Ferguson’s current five-year contract, signed last January and in effect July 2022 through June 2027, pays her a base salary of $310,000. As part of that contract, the board also gave Ferguson a $60,000 “performance bonus” for 2021-22 (the time period Paniagua was allegedly molesting the Janies)—even though the school year was only half completed.
Prosper ISD has argued that privacy concerns prevented district officials from notifying parents about their children’s exposure to an accused molester.
Yet on Friday, nearby Lovejoy ISD notified parents that a bus driver in their district had been accused of an “inappropriate relationship with a minor in a previous district” and is “not currently driving any routes” while the allegations are investigated. The email identified the specific bus routes covered by the driver so parents could determine if their children might have come into contact with him.
“Don’t we wish all would at least communicate?” asked Prosper resident Doug Charles.
Whatever the outcome of Monday’s meeting, Prosper ISD parents deserve answers and accountability.