A prep school in Louisiana is alleged to have routinely falsified black students' transcripts while embellishing their life stories to excite elite colleges into accepting them.
In a lengthy article in The New York Times, former students of T.M. Landry College Preparatory School in Breaux Bridge, Louisiana, testify to being sold a bill of goods by a school administration that did little to prepare its pupils for college and everything to portray themselves as champions of the downtrodden. The school's students have become viral sensations, such as this video of a 16-year-old student opening his Harvard acceptance letter, with reports on the "Today" show, "Ellen" and "CBS This Morning" all hailing T.M. Landry as a launching pad into society's upper-crust. Just one problem: the whole school is a sham.
Founded in 2005 by Michael and Tracy Landry, the school produced its first graduating class in 2013 and has since earned a reputation for producing (predominantly black) students who sail off to bigger and brighter futures at Yale, Brown, Princeton, Stanford, Columbia, Dartmouth, Cornell and Wesleyan. To varying degrees, however, the Landrys have allegedly been running a con operation by falsifying their students' grades and sometimes inventing backstories out of thin-air to portray the students as downtrodden black kids that have overcome adversity. Here's one such example provided by the NYT:
Bryson Sassau’s 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."
"I was just a small piece in a whole fathom of lies," Mr. Sassau said. "He was pulling all of the information out of thin air."
No such community service program called the Dry House actually existed, nor did Sassau grow up with an alcoholic father who beat his mother. In actuality, his father paid child support. His unfortunate story was just one of many examples that the Times investigated.
"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," reports the Times. "The Landrys’ deception has tainted nearly everyone the school has touched, including students, parents and college admissions officers convinced of a myth."
The universities deserve a share of blame for T.M. Landry's behavior by creating a culture that celebrates diversity over merit. From the looks of it, the Landrys were simply exploiting the system. One former T.M. Landry student, Raymond Smith Jr., who graduated to NYU, agrees with that assertion. From the Times report:
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 father’s absence from his life on his N.Y.U. application.
"It’s a good look, these colleges getting these bright, high-flying, came-from-nothing-turned-into-something students," Mr. Smith said.
So how did T.M. Landry get away with this scheme without any intervention from the state? A simple loophole, it seems. The school accepts no government funding and falls into a narrow category of "educational institutions that the state does not regulate or approve." The state of Louisiana does not even recognize T.M. Landry's diplomas, though some diplomas say the school meets state requirements.
The Times report also portrayed the school as a rather abusive, cultish environment, where students were sometimes reportedly forced to kneel before the founder, Michael Landry, for hours at a time to teach them discipline. Other students have been subject to physical and emotional abuse. When students have tried to leave, the Landrys allegedly intimidated them by threatening to hold their transcripts.
The Landrys have denied the accusations.
Students who have gone on to elite colleges have seen mixed-to-negative results. Many report being ill-equipped to handle the difficult curriculum and dropped out entirely.
"I didn’t understand why people around me were doing well, and I wasn’t," said one former student who struggled at Wesleyan. "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."