It turns out it was all too good to be true. A Louisiana high school that went viral over the past year for its joyful videos of Black teens being accepted into top colleges and universities across the nation has been plagued by serious problems all along, an exposé by The New York Times has revealed.
The school earned nationwide attention for those viral videos over the past two years, earning spots on the Today Show, Ellen, and CBS Morning News for the feel-good stories. The Times reports that wealthy supporters have pushed the Black founders of T.M. Landry Preparatory School, Tracey Landry and her husband Michael Landry who runs the school, to expand to other cities. The everyday supporter, enthralled by the viral videos, donated small but steady funds to the school.
But it was all based on lies. According to the Times, the school boosted students’ college applications by lies, relying on the worst stereotypes of Black America to perfect its “rags to riches” stories. Students and teachers say that the Landrys also cultivated fear through physical and emotional abuse, with students forced to kneel on rice, rocks and hot pavement. Students were also choked, yelled at and berated, according to the report.
One student, Raymond Smith Jr, who graduated from the school in 2017 and enrolled in NYU told the Times that Michael Landry forced him to exaggerate his father’s absence in his life on his application to the prestigious school.
“It’s a good look…getting these bright, high-flying, came-from-nothing-turned-into-something students,” Smith said.
“That dream you see on television, all those videos…it’s really a nightmare.” Alison St. Julien, the mother of former student Bryson Sassau, who was accepted into St. John’s University in New York on one of those doctored applications noted.
The Landrys denied manipulating transcripts and applications, although Michael Landry acknowledged that he was a “drill sergeant” who has asked students to kneel before him to learn humility.
“Oh, I yell a lot,” he acknowledged, admitting that he has hit students in the past.
However, Michael Landry insists that he has dialed down on physical punishments, noting “I don’t do that anymore.”
Students who graduated from the college reported mixed results. Some, particularly those who were only at the school for a short time, have reported success. Others have not fared as well.
Families that had children or grandchildren attending the school determined that they were not getting the education they needed. One grandmother noted that her 6-year-old granddaughter could not read and spent most of the day playing with Legos. Another family found out through an independent assessment that their 8-year-old, who had been going to the school since he was 3, was writing “chicken scratch” and was two grade levels behind.
“I gave him my son for six years, almost every day, 12 months of the year,” Adam Broussard, the boy’s father, told the Times. “The longer these kids stayed there, the further behind they were.”
Despite the issues plaguing the school, the Landrys have announced that they plan to open another school 45 minutes from the old one, unnerving families.
In the meantime, the school, which had a total of 180 students last year at its high, has seen enrollment drop after a July meeting during which parents said Michael Landry called them a racial slur. Many of the parents are now shelling out more money for tutoring, or have enrolled their children into home-schools to mitigate the damage done.