RIO RANCHO, N.M. (KRQE) – Teens are terrified to get back behind the wheel all because of their driving instructor. KRQE News 13 is learning more about what led to a Rio Rancho driving school to lose its license for six months. 

Sixteen-year-old Mason Belen was excited to learn how to drive. That quickly changed after he said his driving instructor, Francisco Saenz, was verbally and physically abusive. “It was just a really bad experience. He would yell at me the whole entire driving time, he’d slap my hands sometimes,” Belen said.  

Complaints from students and parents to the state’s Department of Transportation prompted an investigation into Old School of Driving in Rio Rancho. Belen continues, “He just made it seem like I just couldn’t do it. Every time I would feel confident he would just yell at me.”

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The department found Saenz was behaving unethically, and putting students’ safety in jeopardy. Mason Belen said his first time driving behind the wheel with Saenz made him feel scared and uncomfortable. He decided to record his second session on his phone.

“Already five minutes into the driving time and he’s already yelling at me, he’s yelling on the phone while I’m behind the wheel and he calls me names. He called me a homophobic slur.”

At a Jan. 19 hearing, Saenz claims by queer he meant strange. “In any event, calling a student queer for any meaning is inappropriate.” the hearing officer said.

Mason’s mother says she was mortified when she heard the recording. “It went further than just being unpleasant. I really felt like it was abusive and I really felt like it was dangerous,” explains Jamie Vachio. 

There were several other complaints from parents and students describing similar experiences with Saenz. Vachio warns, “Do diligent research on the school because after the fact we found horrible reviews for this school in the Better Business Bureau and through yelp and all kinds of other forms.” 

The school’s license has been suspended for six months starting April 1. Mason has some advice for other teenagers who are learning to drive. “It gets better, that’s it. It’ll seem scary but it really does get easier and the more you do it the more you get more confident.”

Saenz must take gender sensitivity training, an anger management course and a teaching course to learn how to teach in a more positive, conductive and professional environment for his students. After Saenz completes the classes and has taken responsibility for his actions he can request the suspension to be terminated early.