About 300 teens with driver's education cannot get license

By Carolina Astrain , Sara Sneath

By Carolina Astrain , Sara Sneath
Jan. 6, 2014 at 7:01 p.m.
Updated Jan. 6, 2014 at 7:07 p.m.

Gabriel Bishop, of Victoria, logged 44 nerve-wracking hours teaching his teenage son how to drive.

Behind-the-wheel training is part of the Texas Department of Public Safety's teen driver's education course requirements. His son also took a 32-hour, in-class driver's education course at Victoria Educational Associates to meet the course requisites.

But when Bishop, 32, brought his 16-year-old son to Victoria's DPS driver's license office to get his driver's permit in late December, Bishop was told his son did not have the right paperwork to get the license.

Bishop's son is one of an estimated 300 students who went through Victoria Educational Associates' $190 classroom instruction and were not given the proper paperwork to receive their driver's permit.

The classroom training at Victoria Educational Associates has been taught the same way for 12 years, said Johnny Sciacca, owner and director of the school. He said more than 5,000 students have completed the course and received their licenses. The Victoria driver's license office has a new supervisor, and she is no longer accepting the old way of doing things, he said.

"A new supervisor came in and looked at the paperwork procedures that we've used for the last 12 years and said, 'That's not how it should be,'" Sciacca said.

Sciacca's students are missing the Texas Driver Education Certificate (DE-964) form or a comparable document, said Tom Vinger, Texas DPS spokesman.

The form is issued to educators by the Texas Education Agency, said Gaye Estes, driver training coordinator with Region 13 Education Service Center in Austin, which has the state contract to administer the driver's education regulations. She said the form verifies that all of the requirements for the teen driver's education course have been met. The form has been a requirement since 1995.

Estes said Sciacca's course meets TEA requirements for classroom instruction and a parent can finish the behind-the-wheel portion.

The primary issue appeared to be a misunderstanding about procedures for a parent to complete the driver behind-the-wheel instruction after the 32 hours of classroom instruction, Estes said.

Sciacca has since been informed how to go about correcting the issue, she said.

Sciacca had to buy $5,300 worth of behind-the-wheel training materials for students who already went through the classroom instruction but did not have the correct materials for the parent-taught course, he said.

The oversight came from a 2012 change in the law that requires students to obtain a DE-964 form, or certificate of completion equivalent, which can be obtained only through the new course materials, he added.

"We're just straightening up a little bit of a mess," Sciacca said.

He apologized to the students who already went through the in-class instruction and must now use the parent-taught course, which will be provided by his school. Those students will have to re-log all of their driving time, he said.

The driving time can be made up only one hour per day and must start after he issues the parents the new packet, he said.

The new materials will not be ready until Friday, Sciacca said.

"We would not have made this oversight intentionally. We're sorry for the inconvenience of getting their license," Sciacca said. "I felt really good about what we were doing."

Bishop said he was frustrated that his son would have to wait longer for his license.

"He's the one getting punished for all this. He's not able to get his license because of this man," Bishop said.

He said the online course costs $50, and he paid Sciacca $190 for the driver's education, which Sciacca refunded. Bishop said, as a parent, he takes responsibility for doing what is necessary for his son to get his license, but Sciacca misled him to believe that his son had fulfilled all the requirements.

He said he doesn't blame DPS officials for enforcing the requirements but blames Sciacca for not knowing what those requirements are.

"If he is going to sell this service, it would be a good idea to know what the state requires," he said.



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