A small-town Louisiana school that made headlines for vaulting its majority-Black students to the nation’s most prestigious universities is back in the spotlight after a damning report accused the school’s founders of falsifying college documents.
The founders of T.M. Landry College Prep School in Breaux Bridge allegedly cut corners by fabricating students’ college applications and doctoring their transcripts, according to a New York Times report published Friday. Husband-and-wife duo Michael and Tracey Landry ran a tight ship and are accused of fostering a “culture of fear with physical and emotional abuse.”
With their eyes on Ivy League schools hungry for diversity, the report claims the Landrys “mined the worst stereotypes of Black America” to cook up the most compelling tales of hardship that would appeal to elite institutions. T.M. Landry alum Bryson Sassau said he “was just a small piece in a whole fathom of lies,” detailing how the Landrys falsified his transcript to include stories of an alleged abusive, alcoholic father and high honors he received while on the Mathematics Olympiad.
It was all a lie, however.
T.M. Landry’s success stories have drawn national attention in the last few years, as one student after another were vaulted into the likes of Yale, Harvard, Princeton and Wesleyan University, just to name a few. Footage of a 16-year-old student tearing open his Harvard acceptance letter went viral last year, racking up over 8 million views.
The school’s 100 or so K-12 students quickly shot to fame and became a leading example for other schools across Louisiana. Every viral online video and media appearance afforded the school buckets of money from generous donors. In fact, T.M. Landry has collected over $250,000 in donations this year, according to the report.
In reality, the private school, headed by founders with little to no educational background, had successfully pulled the wool over everyone’s eyes.
“It’s a good look,” these colleges “getting these bright, high-flying, came-from-nothing-turned-into-something students,” said Raymond Smith Jr., who graduated from the prep school in 2017 and detailed how Michael Landry pressured him to exaggerate his father’s absence from his life on his application to New York University.
In addition to the falsified documents, T.M. Landry students were forced to kneel on rocks, rice and hot pavement as punishment, and were screamed at and even choked, the New York Times report alleges. The shocking claims are detailed in court documents and police reports reviewed by The New York Times.
Alums who successfully escaped the school were faced with their own struggles once arriving at their top-tier universities. Some managed to stay afloat amid the rigorous coursework while others, including a female student whose acceptance to Wesleyan University went viral, fell into a deep depression and was forced to leave school.
“I didn’t understand why people around me were doing well, and I wasn’t,” Asja Jackson told the newspaper. “I couldn’t tell my friends because they would say, ‘How did you get into the school then?’ There were too many questions that I couldn’t answer.”
Michael and Tracey Landry have denied doctoring transcripts and college apps, however, Michael Landry did admit to physically disciplining his students, painting himself as a sort of “drill sergeant.” He even acknowledged pitting Black and white students against one another because “that’s how the real world works.”
According to the Times, Landry was sentenced to probation and anger management in 2013 after pleading guilty to battery.
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