Louisiana School Made Headlines for Sending Black Kids to Elite Colleges. Heres the Reality.
By Erica L. Green and Katie Benner
New York Times
November 30, 2018

BREAUX BRIDGE, La. Bryson Sassaus application would inspire any college admissions officer.

A founder of T.M. Landry College Preparatory School described him as a bright, energetic, compassionate and genuinely well-rounded student whose alcoholic father had beaten him and his mother and had denied them money for food and shelter. His transcript speaks for itself, the founder, Tracey Landry, wrote, but Mr. Sassau should also be lauded for founding a community service program, the Dry House, to help the children of abusive and alcoholic parents. He took four years of honors English, the application said, was a baseball M.V.P. and earned high honors in the Mathematics Olympiad.

The narrative earned Mr. Sassau acceptance to St. Johns University in New York. There was one problem: None of it was true.

I was just a small piece in a whole fathom of lies, Mr. Sassau said.

T.M. Landry has become a viral Cinderella story, a small school run by Michael Landry, a teacher and former salesman, and his wife, Ms. Landry, a nurse, whose predominantly black, working-class students have escaped the rural South for the nations most elite colleges. A video of a 16-year-old student opening his Harvard acceptance letter last year has been viewed more than eight million times. Other Landry students went on to Yale, Brown, Princeton, Stanford, Columbia, Dartmouth, Cornell and Wesleyan.

Landry success stories have been splashed in the past two years on the Today show, Ellen and the CBS Morning News. Education professionals extol T.M. Landry and its 100 or so kindergarten-through-12th-grade students as an example for other Louisiana schools. Wealthy supporters have pushed the Landrys, who have little educational training, to expand to other cities. Small donors, heartened by the web videos, send in a steady stream of cash.

In reality, the school falsified transcripts, made up student accomplishments and mined the worst stereotypes of black America to manufacture up-from-hardship tales that it sold to Ivy League schools hungry for diversity. The Landrys also fostered a culture of fear with physical and emotional abuse, students and teachers said. Students were forced to kneel on rice, rocks and hot pavement, and were choked, yelled at and berated.

The Landrys deception has tainted nearly everyone the school has touched, including students, parents and college admissions officers convinced of a myth.

The colleges want to be able to get behind the black kids going off and succeeding, and going to all of these schools, said Raymond Smith Jr., who graduated from T.M. Landry in 2017 and enrolled at N.Y.U. He said that Mr. Landry forced him to exaggerate his fathers absence from his life on his N.Y.U. application.

Its a good look, these colleges getting these bright, high-flying, came-from-nothing-turned-into-something students, Mr. Smith said.