Louisiana School Accused of Falsifying Grades, Student Abuse

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Breaux Bridge, La.

A small private school in Louisiana noted for sending African-American students to elite colleges reportedly falsified transcripts and created a culture of physical and emotional abuse, among other unscrupulous actions.

The New York Times reported its findings about T.M. Landry College Preparatory School in Breaux Bridge on Friday. The newspaper interviewed dozens of people about the school, and examined student records, court documents and police records for its article.

A video of a 16-year-old T.M. Landry student opening his Harvard acceptance letter last year has been viewed more than 8 million times and is among several viral videos that have drawn national attention to the school.

Former student Bryson Sassau told the Times the application that got him into St. John's University in New York had lies, including that he started a community service program to help children of abusive and alcoholic parents. It also said Sassau took four years of honors English and was a baseball MVP.

Michael and Tracey Landry, the married couple who founded the school in the southwestern Louisiana city with a population of about 8,000, say they didn't falsify transcripts and college applications.

Michael Landry, 49, admitted that he used to hit students. Records show that he was sentenced to probation and an anger management program in 2013 after pleading guilty to a count of battery. Landry denied that he pleaded guilty and said a student's mother had asked him to hit her child.

"I don't do that anymore," the former salesman said.

The K-12 school has about 100 students. Its promotional materials say 50 students have graduated since its first class in 2013. Graduates have had mixed results in college.

T.M. Landry takes no government funding, so it falls in a narrow category of institutions that Louisiana does not regulate or approve, state Education Department Assistant Superintendent Erin Bendily said. The state does not recognize diplomas from the unaccredited school.

Landry said he touted the school as created for "black troublemakers," until it became more prominent and started to appeal to others. Tuition is more than $7,000 annually.

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