Eyewitness News first reported on T. M. Landry College Prep school in the Lafayette area, because it was claiming unprecedented success in getting its students placed in Ivy League universities, but now the school is making national headlines, after allegations that much of the information in some of those Ivy League applications was fake.
In a scathing report by the New York Times, there are also claims the people who run the school, emotionally and physically abused students.
The feel-good videos pulled the country in on social media. Then it pulled journalists in. And when parents started seeing negative changes in their children and felt something was wrong at the school, they kept going back to the school's Facebook page and those inspirational videos.
The videos went viral of elated students from T.M. Landry College Prep, opening acceptance letters from Ivy League and other prestigious universities. The school, in Breaux Bridge, soon attracted network news anchors telling the Cinderella story: children from working-class families, beating the odds in a warehouse-type setting, with no books required. WWL-TV was one of the many news sources to report on what was believed to be a success story.
The fairy tale is now unraveling. In the Times investigation, the school is under fire for allegedly doctoring college applications, falsifying transcripts, and practicing physical and emotional abuse. New York Times reporter, Katie Benner, wrote the investigative article on the school and owners, married couple Michael and Tracey Landry.
"Both parents and students used the word 'cult' in almost every single interview. Many of them said again and again, 'It felt like a cult. It felt like we were supposed to be a family, or we were supposed to be supporting one another. We were also supposed to keep secrets from one another,'" said Benner.
Benner thinks the alleged violence explains why, for so long, the students weren't even telling their parents about what was supposedly going on in school. Over the summer, parents confronted the Landrys in a meeting after independent evaluations showed how academically far behind their children were.
"In return, he got angry with them and he yelled at them and they're telling he called them a racial slur. Now you saw attendance really drop after that point," Benner said what she learned in her reporting.
Benner reports that the ACT test scores were high because of repeated practice on the test, rather than overall learning. Some students have left those colleges that they got into. Benner plans to do a follow up report on some of the many people who sent donations to the school after all the media attention. One was Al Jackson, a host on Daily Blast live, which airs on Channel 4. Even our parent company donated, through the Tegna Foundation.
On the show, Jackson explained how he was crushed when he heard about the Times' story.
"My first thought was just like, the beauty that this started with. When I first saw those reaction videos, I saw a little bit of myself. I was lucky enough to go, do my last few years at Brown University and when I saw that kid getting into that school. I heard their story about how difficult it was to raise funds to keep the doors open. It really got me emotional. Ii donated. I have no regrets about that donation. I really applaud our parent company for making, for doubling that donation," said Jackson.
Now Benner and wonders how the state will look into schools such as T. M. Landry and the other ones like it, that take no state fund,s so have no over site or accreditation from the State Board of Education.
I talked to Michael Landry on the phone. He told me he would have information and a statement to show all of the allegations were wrong. Then he said to call him back in 20 minutes and he would have details to give me. I have called several times. He is not answering and his voice mail is full. He texted me he is in a meeting.
There was an emergency faculty meeting called at the school Friday night.