Driver's ed students have options after suburban school closes
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A Crystal Lake-based driver's education school with nine branch offices in the Northwest suburbs has shuttered its doors, a spokesman for the Illinois Secretary of State's Office said Monday.
The Northwest Suburban Driving School, which has operated for more than two decades with branch offices in Mount Prospect, Palatine, Schaumburg, Algonquin, Lake Zurich, Vernon Hills and Mundelein, announced through its website that all classes and driving lessons are canceled and it is ceasing all operations after going out of business.
The school hasn't been operating since last Thursday and "closed" signs were posted at some branch offices.
Parents complained on the school's Facebook page that they received no notification and feared they would not be reimbursed for money already paid or that their child would have to repeat lessons.
"No one was notified," said Margaret Warzecha of Mundelein, whose 15-year-old daughter, Erin, attended classes at the Vernon Hills branch. "A friend posted it on Facebook that they went out of business."
Warzecha said her daughter has finished much of the course and has only the driving portion left.
"All of us have paid ahead of time," Warzecha said. "I don't think we're going to get our money back. I'm less worried about the money aspect. If she has to do a new class, that's really going to be rough schedule-wise."
However, there are checks in place to ensure customers don't lose out, said Terry Montalbano, commercial driver's license administrator for the Illinois secretary of state's office.
"It's a good thing that in Illinois we have oversight of commercial driving schools where most states in the country don't," Montalbano said. "This is only the fourth time in the last 10 years that this has ever happened."
It's unclear how many students are affected by Northwest Suburban's closing, but the school employed 26 driving instructors who are now out of a job, Montalbano said.
Affected parents of students and customers should call the Secretary of State's Commercial Driver Training Section in Elk Grove Village at (847) 981-7455. They will be given the name of the school's bonding company to file a claim against a $70,000 surety bond the owner was required to put up when the school was licensed.
Customers who paid the full $400 cost of the entire driving course in cash will be reimbursed for the unused portion by filing a claim against the surety bond.
"Everybody gets a piece of what's left of the bond," Montalbano said. "That's one way parents can get money back. Any parent that paid with a credit card simply has to call the credit card (company) and dispute the charges."
After the closing of Northwest Suburban, there are 81 private commercial driving schools with 193 locations statewide remaining.
Montalbano said there had been no problems with Northwest Suburban's licensing or teaching and that the school had an "excellent" record.
"We're being told it's financial issues outside of us," he said.
The business' owner could not be reached for comment.
An employee first notified the secretary of state that the school was closing. When officials contacted the owner he told them it was a labor dispute that should be worked out in a couple of days. The owner later confirmed the school was going out of business, Montalbano said.
"We will cancel the license, which means they cannot operate in the state of Illinois," Montalbano said. "We basically took possession of their records."
Students will receive credit for whatever portion of the course has been completed, Montalbano said. A full course includes 30 hours of classroom instruction, six hours of observation, and six hours of behind-the-wheel training.
"We will match our records with the school's records," Montalbano said. "No student is going to lose any hours that they have ever done. And we will help them with placement at other schools. Or they are free to go to any other driving school."
Montalbano said his office has secured a commitment from five of the biggest, most reputable driving schools in the area to take on Northwest Suburban's students, if the parents so choose. The schools also have agreed to accommodate the schedules students had for training.
The agency's selected driving schools are: Adams Driving School operating in Arlington Heights, Schaumburg and Wauconda; Top Driver, which has multiple suburban locations; Joyce Driving School out of Barrington, also with multiple suburban locations; All Four Wheels and Steer U Right, both out of Algonquin.
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