Prosper ISD Holds Special Meeting, Approves Hiring Law Firm to Investigate Sexual Abuse Allegations of a School Bus Driver

Tuesday's special meeting came two weeks after parents packed a regular school board meeting where dozens of upset families demanded transparency during an investigation into alleged sexual abuse of students on a district bus

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Tuesday afternoon in a 5-to-2 vote, the Prosper ISD Board of Trustees approved hiring an outside law firm to investigate the allegations surrounding the sexual assault of at least two elementary students by a district bus driver.

The district said it will use the law firm, Thompson & Horton, to conduct the investigation into the allegations and how the district managed the response.

A separate law firm, Fanning Harper Martinson Brandt & Kutchin will provide legal counsel for the pending lawsuit against the district by the family of two of the victims.

Tuesday morning many parents showed up for the special meeting that was set for 8 a.m. but immediately went into closed session where the board met with attorneys.

Parents were visibly frustrated because the closed-door meeting lasted for five hours. The district's board president, Drew Wilborn, apologized for the length of deliberations, then proceeded to public comments

Dozens of parents walked up to the podium and expressed their concerns.

"The lack of communication, lack of concern for other potential victims is shocking," said one parent, critical of the district.

"We are hurting and we are demanding to know what will be done from this and to keep it from happening again," questioned another.

The special meeting comes two weeks after a packed public meeting of the Prosper ISD board where dozens of parents expressed their concern over a lawsuit that alleges the district did not do enough to protect two children who were reportedly sexually assaulted over several months by a district bus driver last school year.

“Why was I never contacted that my child could have potentially come in contact with a child molester?” one parent asked the board during the public comment portion.

The allegations of abuse were when a family filed a lawsuit against the district, seeking more than $5 million in damages. The lawsuit – obtained by NBC 5 – alleges that the bus driver, Frank Paniagua, abused two girls more than 100 times last year. The girls were aged 5 and 7 at the time, according to the lawsuit.

Parents are upset that they were not notified, especially those whose kids had the same bus route.

“To this day I haven't heard anything from the school district. No text emails, telegrams, Facebook messages," said one mom about her daughter who was 5 at the time and had the same bus driver.

She believes her daughter may be a potential victim, which is why we are not using her name.

The mom of four said her now 7-year-old daughter had the suspect as a bus driver from January - May of 2021.

They built a trust with the driver who the mother described as "super friendly," but looking back is questioning certain events that happened.

She said their house was the last stop, and that the bus had a history of being late even though the school was nearby.

The mother said she was told the bus was late once because her daughter spilled slime and they had to clean it up. She also said she noticed some behavioral changes in her daughter that may be connected to the situation.

She's upset because she had to find out from another student's mother from the bus about the allegations.

“I want them to come up with a policy change, there has to be some way to notify people faster, and I understand protecting names and identities of students and children, but they protected an adult that was caught on camera and to this day I haven't heard anything from the school, but even a week ago when the news story broke, it was the first time a lot of us even learned he died," she said.

She also wants more resources, such as professional help for those who may be impacted. The mother said she's reached out to several law enforcement agencies about her daughter, who will meet with a psychologist in the coming weeks.

Parents are also been very vocal in the meetings, sometimes even chanting, for the resignation of the district's superintendent, Holly Ferguson.

According to the lawsuit filed by the family of the two young victims, there's also an allegation that Superintendent Ferguson suggested the girls' mother keep quiet, “So as to not attract media attention to her family or to Prosper ISD staff.”

The school board responded to parents with a statement read aloud during the August 29 school board meeting.

"We understand and share the community’s outrage over the allegations that a former Prosper ISD employee sexually abused students,” said board president Drew Wilborn. “It is our understanding that Prosper ISD administrators took swift action upon receiving a complaint about this former employee. These actions included communications with law enforcement officials, CPS, and parents in the district."

Following that board meeting, Prosper ISD made the move to hire and launch an independent investigation into the assaults.

The lawsuit does not name the elementary school the girls attended but states that the alleged abuse was captured on surveillance footage.

According to court filings, the accused bus driver, Frank Paniagua, was arrested in May and booked into the Collin County jail on charges of aggravated sexual assault of a child, continuous sexual abuse of a child victim under 14, and indecency with a child sexual contact. The lawsuit states Paniagua made an attempt on his own life in jail and later died from his injuries.

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