TM Landry: A Dream School With a Nightmare Reality

Michael and Tracey Landry, the founders of TM Landry College Prep

TM Landry

Michael and Tracey Landry, the founders of TM Landry College Prep

Elena Naze, Chief Editor

The Louisiana private school, TM Landry, run by husband and wife, Michael and Tracey Landry, has made headlines with viral videos showing students getting accepted into their top choice colleges. However, after a recent New York Times investigation, the story is changing.

The school is run inside a practically empty warehouse in Breaux Bridge Louisiana, and advertises itself as a school for low-income, working class black families. Its viral success stories (even featured on the Ellen show) and a 100% graduation rate shed little light on how the school is really run. With about 100 students ranging from kindergarten to 12th grade, T.M Landry is run with almost no teachers, textbooks, and full of abuse, both emotional and physical.

Students have said that they are forced to kneel in front of Mr. Landry, on rice, rocks, or even hot pavement for hours. They are choked, yelled at, and constantly pitted against each other, because, as Mr. Landry put it, it’s how the real world works. It was also reported that he locked a child with autism in a closet.

Mr. Landry was sentenced in 2013 to probation and anger management classes after pleading guilty to charges of battery. He argues that he was never sentenced and that the student’s mother had asked him to beat her child. He also argues that he no longer physically punishes his students.

Landry also refers to himself as a “drill sergeant” and has admitted to asking children to kneel before him, so that they can learn humility.

In addition to the abuse that they endured, the school also falsified almost all applications to colleges. Transcripts reflected classes they didn’t take and praise they didn’t earn and financial aid forms reflected lower income than the family really had. Student Bryson Sassau said that Mr. Landry “was pulling all the information out of thin air.”

In addition to the false transcripts the students were also forced to write essays with fake information containing harmful black stereotypes, all in an effort to appeal to the Ivy League schools looking for diversity. One student’s application even talked about his abusive and alcoholic father who never paid child support and drove him to start a charity organization called Dry House; none of which was true. 

However, the false applications did work, but not just to get the students into college, they were also used to keep them out. Mr. Landry would reportedly hold or alter transcripts of students who wanted to transfer schools as a way to force them to stay. One 16 year old student’s transcript showed her birth date as 1969 rather than 2002.

The graduates of TM Landry’s that have gone on to top tier universities might feel the effects the most. Some have left their colleges to attend one closer to home just to find out that their high school diplomas were not accepted, because TM Landry is not an accredited school. 

Others have suffered from the way the school was organized: optional attendance to classes and completely student run. Asja Jackson, a graduate of TM Landry went on to Wesleyan University had to drop out because of depression over failing exams and “childish” papers.

Younger students at TM Landry weren’t even required  to do work, some even said their education consisted of learning from Youtube videos and various computer programs. In addition, classes are optional and there were never enough textbooks or teachers, making it hard for students to attend class. One 6 year old student was still unable to read and spent her school days playing with Legos.

Parent Mr. Broussard said that “the longer these kids stayed there, the further behind they were.” In fact, one junior was so far behind that they had the math and reading level of a fourth grader.

As for the high school students, their days are filled with ACT prep. Students would take practice test after practice test instead of attending real classes. Bryson Sassau said that when he went to college he quickly learned that “if it wasn’t on the ACT, I didn’t know it.”

To maintain their reputation, the Landrys paraded camera crews around the school, recruited high performing students from other schools, and forced the students to rehearse and stage exactly what was to be said to the visitors. The dozens of college acceptance videos the school produced became a promotional technique instead of a celebration of the actual successes of their students.

It is easy to see why the families fell for it, though. In a town with 22% of its population living in poverty and only 15% with a college degree, a ‘miracle school’ can seem like the only way out. The tuition costs up to $725 a month, and around $7,200 annually. It’s not ‘cheap’ and the school structure has forced some parents to pay for private tutors so their children can catch up.

TM Landry’s future plans include opening another school just 45 minutes away. One parent explained her frustration at such plans by saying, “How do you look your son in the face every day and tell him that this person is going to get what’s coming to him, or he’s going to get his punishment, when every other day you see something else that this person is doing, or they’re on to another school, or he’s on TV?”