PROSPER, Texas — Attorneys for two young girls who alleged they were repeatedly sexually assaulted by a Prosper ISD bus driver say that more possible victims are now coming forward.
"The family is so concerned about confidentiality and specifically further damage to their kids that they debated for a while whether they wanted to take any action at all," attorney Levi McCathern said of the family that sounded the alarm first. "Which in my mind would have been a tragedy. But I understand it."
On Monday night, parents at a packed Prosper ISD school board meeting called for the superintendent's resignation, citing their belief that the problems with bus driver Frank Paniagua were known long before any action was taken.
"Frankly, I will say it right to the camera," McCathern added, "the superintendent of this school district needs to be replaced by someone who cares enough about the kids to take a black eye when they have a bad person out there."
In a lawsuit filed Aug. 25, McCathern and fellow attorney Kristin Hecker allege that two young girls, just 5 and 7 years old, endured "over 100 instances of abuse" and that "Prosper ISD was willfully indifferent in recognizing, preventing, interceding, and responding to any suspicion of—let alone actual instances of—sexual misconduct involving its administrators and students."
The girls, identified in the lawsuit only as Jane Doe 1 and Jane Doe 2, say, Paniagua, over the course of an entire school year, would assault them after all other students left the bus.
The lawsuit claims he "systematically ensured Jane Doe 1 was the last student off the bus so he could assault her at the back of the bus for three to five minutes every morning that she was on his bus."
"Every part of these kids got explored by this man's hands. Every part," McCathern said.
"This abuse occurred every day the girls were on the bus, and they were on the bus three to four times a week for nine months," said attorney Kristin Hecker.
"We also know he took the bus places and parked it for extended periods of time and assaulted these children," McCathern said. "We have some now that are coming forward that he parked this bus for an hour."
In a written statement to WFAA, Prosper ISD issued this response:
"We are horrified that an employee violated the trust of our families and students, as Prosper ISD's foremost priority is to protect our students' safety and well-being at all times. We strongly condemn the actions of any adult who would cause mental or physical harm to a child, and we do not tolerate such behavior.
The district took swift and thorough action when we were first made aware of the allegation against this former employee. We would like to provide more details about this matter, but, because of pending litigation, we are not able to offer any additional information at this time."
"I've been told the school is trying to take the position that they told all of the other parents on the bus what had occurred. That is absolute nonsense," McCathern said, citing other parents who told him they only learned about Paniagua and the allegations once the lawsuit was filed.
One of those parents, whose son rode on Paniagua's bus route, confirmed that to WFAA Monday night.
Prosper ISD police reviewed surveillance video from Paniagua's bus on May 9, 2022. He was arrested two days later and booked 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.
Paniagua died on June 10 after his arrest and booking into the Collin County Jail, where he reportedly jumped off the jail's second floor.
Now, the attorneys say other Prosper ISD families are contacting them with similar stories about the bus driver.
"And something this brazen, it's not going to be the first time that he's done something like this," said Hecker. "But more and more come forward every day, and it's absolutely shocking."
The Prosper ISD school board has since hired an independent law firm to review and investigate the district's response to the allegations and overall situation.
After Paniagua's arrest, over 100 days went by before Prosper ISD publicly acknowledged it or the allegations he was facing.
That shook Prosper ISD parent Dr. Morgan Grahovec.
Grahovec's daughter went to the school where Paniagua dropped off kids and the same school the two young sisters attended.
She's also a child psychologist and told the board Monday night that not notifying parents in writing that an arrest had been made in May may have jeopardized the chance to identify any more victims Paniagua may have targeted.
"Children who are victims of abuse need to be identified and interviewed as soon as possible because memory fades over time," Dr. Grahovec said.
"It's important because we want to make sure that we're correctly identifying abuse. The sooner we interview the child, the more accurate and reliable their report will be."
"The longer you wait, it's harder to get a child to report abuse accurately."
At the board meeting, parents urged the board to put protocols in place that trigger an automatic notification to families if an employee who interacts with children daily is accused of sexual abuse.
Grahovec said parents should never have had to ask for that in the first place.
"I hope that districts will use this as a teachable moment," Grahovec said. "At the very least, we need to identify potential victims as quickly as possible to get them the services they need. That may not have happened here."
"There needs to be policy change moving forward. If mistakes were made, they should take ownership of them and correct them."