A Louisiana school celebrated for sending working-class and underprivileged students of color to elite schools and Ivy League colleges has been accused of inflating college applications and fostering a culture of abuse and intimidation, according to the New York Times.
T.M. Landry College Prep nabbed national headlines for its viral videos that feature students opening acceptance letters from universities like Cornell, Yale and Brown. The ecstatic and celebratory reaction clips have landed on the “Today Show,” “CBS This Morning” and even “Ellen,” the feel-good clips serving as inspiration to for all who watched.
One video, which shows student Ayrton Little getting into Harvard, has been viewed more than 8 million times since it was first posted last year.
But interviews with 46 parents and teachers as well as current and former students revealed the gleeful clips are a far cry from what actually occurs at T.M. Landry. Michael and Tracey Landry, who founded the school in 2005, have been accused of questionable teaching methods, falsifying college application as well as ongoing physical and emotional abuse, the Times reported.
“The dream you see on television, all those videos — it’s really a nightmare,” said parent Alison St. Julien.
Her son, Bryson Sassau, was accepted to St John’s University in New York after college administrators received his transcript rife with lies, many hinging on offensive stereotypes of black Americans. His application touted his success as a student despite an abusive and alcoholic father, who would deny the rest of his family money for food and shelter.
His challenging upbringing, inspired him to create a community service program to help other children of abusive alcoholic parents, according to the college transcript. Sassau, who first saw the documents this week, said everything was mostly made up.
“He was pulling information out of thin air,” Sassau told the Times, adding that his father paid child support and never once beat him or his mother like his application suggested.
The Landrys have denied altering college applications, but said they do encourage their students to open up and lean into their backgrounds.
When asked about allegations that he choked some students and forced others to kneel on the ground for hours, Michael Landry told the Times: “Oh, I yell a lot.”
T.M. Landry is an unaccredited private school for students ages K-12. It is not regulated and the most places do not recognize the diplomas as valid. Tuition can cost up to $657 a month.
“The T.M. Landry mission is dedicated to promoting each child’s self worth and dignity in a supportive, educational safe environment while preparing them to prosper and flourish in a culturally diverse, technological society,” its website reads.
“T.M. Landry’s goal is that every child not only gets in, but THROUGH college.”
Asja Jackson, who went viral with a video of her acceptance to Wesleyan University, decided to leave school last month after struggling through her first semester. She told the New York Times she “froze and failed” her first chemistry test and was too embarrassed to attend a writing workshop due to how far behind she was.
Soon she became depressed.
“I didn’t understand why people around me were doing well, and I wasn’t,” she said.
“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.”