The New York Times published a report Friday accusing officials at the T.M Landry Prep School in Breaux Bridge of falsifying records in an attempt to place its students at Ivy League schools. The report said the leader of the school, acclaimed for academic achievements by underprivileged students, demeaned students who fell behind and forced children to kneel on rice and rocks.
An allegation of physical abuse at the Landry school was reported to law enforcement nearly two years ago, but no charges pertaining to those allegations have been filed against Michael Landry, who operates the school. A school receptionist said Landry was not available Friday. She said the school was preparing a statement on the Times article, but none had been issued as of late Friday. Publicly listed phone numbers for Landry were out of service. A member of the school's governing board, Greg Davis, did not return calls.
Mary Mitchell reported to the Breaux Bridge Police Department in February 2017 that Landry choked her 14-year-old son, according to a complaint report the department provided to The Advocate.
Police Chief Rollie Cantu said the department interviewed additional parents and children, as well as Landry, but ultimately referred the allegations to the St. Martin Parish Sheriff’s Office. A Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman said she referred The Advocate’s queries about the status of any investigation to the records division, but she did not respond to additional calls and emails.
The school moved from unincorporated St. Martin Parish to within Breaux Bridge city limits in early 2017, around the time Mitchell submitted her report, according to the Times. Cantu said city detectives proceeded with an investigation, but eventually determined the alleged abuse occurred at the previous location.
Cantu offered conflicting statements as to the validity of the allegations. He first suggested the department wouldn’t have referred the case if it lacked credibility. He then said a detective determined that “it was a he said-she said thing.”
“If we had known it had happened in the city, we would have done what we had to do,” Cantu said, before hanging up on a reporter.
The Times reported that a minimum of five families spoke to local law enforcement to no avail, and that witness statements to the Breaux Bridge Police corroborated what Mitchell reported. The newspaper cited details in a police report that is more extensive than the one-page complaint report Cantu provided to The Advocate.
Cantu said a subpoena would be necessary to obtain additional records from the case. He said he could not describe what the more detailed report contains because he has not read it.
“I’m not going to B.S. you. I never read the report, honestly. I never looked at it. I just went by what (detectives) were telling me,” Cantu said.
A lawyer working with families of former students, Ashlee McFarlane, said Mitchell had no comment.
The school gained national recognition last year when two brothers who were students there appeared on "The Ellen Show" after they were accepted to Harvard and Stanford. Its website boasts of a curriculum that goes “well beyond state and national standards” to challenge all students and give them an opportunity to reach their full potential.
According to the Times report, the school falsified transcripts, made up student accomplishments and forced students to kneel on rice, rocks and hot pavement. Students were choked, yelled at and berated, parents and students told the Times.
The school had made plans to move into a 33,000-square-foot space in the southeast corner of Northgate Mall in Lafayette, mall manager Lisa Champagne said. It's not known whether the school is moving or opening another campus.
Champagne said Friday morning she has not heard from the school in months.
Adam Daigle of the Advocate contributed to this report.
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