The horrible truth behind some heartwarming videos

The story of a school that had a high percentage of underserved students accepted into some of the nation’s best universities was salve for the wounds of a wicked world.

Who didn’t feel good watching the viral videos of students checking whether they got accepted or not?

Anything is possible in America.

It was all fake, a New York Times investigation showed.

It’s like learning about Santa Claus all over again.

The T.M. Landry school in Louisiana was a Cinderella story.

But the application letters to the schools were faked. The owner of the school, Michael Landry, abused the kids. Some of the students in the viral videos have had to drop out of college for one reason or another, the Times investigation revealed.

“I didn’t understand why people around me were doing well, and I wasn’t,” said Asja Jackson, who has taken a medical leave from 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.”

She was in one of the viral videos. And with each one, the school’s owner made more money from people sending in donations — $250,000 this year, the Times say. Part of it was supposed to go for tuition aid. None of it has.

Tanika Williams was hired to teach philosophy last year. She took pride in her lessons, but said that because students were not required to attend class, some showed up infrequently.

“I would look at kids literally walking around all day,” she said.

At least a half-dozen staff members resigned. Among those remaining was Keidrick Owens, who had been accused at his previous school of instructing older students to whip younger students with a belt. Last fall, Mr. Owens pleaded guilty to contributing to the delinquency of a minor and was sentenced to 18 months’ probation.

More than a dozen students and staff members told The Times of pupils being humiliated in front of their peers and of racial groups being pitted against one another. Academically weak students were demeaned, and headstrong students were made to kneel.

More than a half-dozen students interviewed said they had witnessed Mr. Landry choking their schoolmates, and three students observed him slam others on desks. Another three students said they saw Mr. Landry place a child with autism in a closet.

Some of the students in college are taking GED classes after finding out that their high school diplomas were never accepted by their state authorities. The school is unaccredited.

The Times says Landry threatened to ruin his students’ future if students left the school or told anyone what happened there.

“I really should have said something,” said one student. “This isn’t what I wanted my life to be or what I want it to be about. I didn’t want to be part of the lies, and watching kids be abused and not do anything. I was so brainwashed.”