SF School Board Extends Lowell High Lottery Admission For Another Year, But The Debate Is Not Over


Students hoping to enter San Francisco’s prestigious Lowell High School next fall will face a lottery system again, after the city’s school board voted on Thursday to extend the mostly random admission process to another year.

The San Francisco Board of Education approved resolution 4-3. The vote was the last in a yearlong Lowell saga, but it won’t be the last. The resolution allows students applying to Lowell for the 2022-2023 school year to use the same application form used for other comprehensive high schools in the school district, officials said in a statement Thursday evening.

During the pandemic, the board temporarily replaced an admission process based on test scores and grades due to the lack of criteria available to assess students who remained in distance education.

In February, the board voted to make this admission change permanent, a decision that was later challenged in court. The lawsuit claimed the school board failed to adequately notify the public of the vote, and a judge ruled against the district in November and forced the board to reverse the permanent change.

With the next admission season already starting, Superintendent Vince Matthews has asked the board for a one-year extension of the temporary lottery process. The board must go through another public process to make the change permanent at the school, which serves nearly 3,000 students.

During Thursday’s meeting, about 30 community members – including former Lowell students, parents of Lowell students and parents of students attending other schools in the district – condemned the board for its management of the problem, questioned the legality of the lottery system, urged the school board to revert to merit-based admissions and expressed concerns that students admitted by lottery might not be academically prepared for the curriculum at Lowell.

Joanna Lam, a student delegate to the school district‘s student advisory council and current Lowell student, supported the resolution and expressed concerns about the merit-based system, saying students need resources to prepare for the process of admission by competitive examination – and that not all had access to tutoring.

“To those who are advocating going back to what we had, I mean what we had wasn’t great either,” she said.

The council decision reopens the door to the heated debate over Lowell’s admission process, which has divided the city. One party argued that merit-based admissions are elitist, leading to a shortage of black and brown students and a culture of racism. Supporters point to the increased diversity in this year’s ninth-grade class, which has more black and Hispanic students than at any time in at least 25 years.

But opponents say the change hurts Asian Americans, who are overrepresented in the school compared to the district as a whole, and will result in a lack of opportunities for high performing and hardworking students.

Commissioners Kevine Boggess, Alison Collins and Gabriela López expressed concerns about the language used by some during the public comment portion of the meeting. Boggess described some of the remarks as “very disturbing”, “very harmful and false” and “hateful and derogatory”. López said the way some people have framed and expressed their opinions “creates more harm.”

Collins said she wanted to address the narrative that the amended enrollment policy would exclude Asian American students – saying she had heard comparisons to the Chinese exclusion law. She took issue with the idea that without “selective enrollment,” the school district would harm immigrant families who see Lowell as “a path like an opportunity.”

“We’re looking at the data this year on enrollment, and not only are we having more African American and Latin American students in the school, but we’re seeing some really huge gains among low-income students, immigrant students and also students with disabilities, ”said Collins, which she says applies to Asian American and specifically Chinese families.

Lowell has historically been one of the top performing public high schools in the country, with prominent alumni in politics, entertainment, literature, and science, albeit a school that many students say is a pressure cooker, with a toxic climate unwelcoming to black and brown students.

Board members cited “pervasive systemic racism” and lack of diversity at Lowell as the primary reason for ending the merit-based admissions process following an incident in which students were exposed to racist, pornographic and anti-Semitic images in an online school forum. . The perpetrator has never been identified.

The board is expected to resume Lowell’s admissions policy early next year, which many on both sides hope will lead to a compromise, or at least a wider community debate.

The board bypassed its normal process to expedite the Lowell decision, giving the public only a week to digest the proposal before a vote. Usually a policy change, especially a controversial one, would take at least two weeks and often much longer as it passed through committees, each providing the public with an opportunity to comment.

There was little time for public discussions or conversations about alternatives or compromises, said Terry Abad, of the Lowell Alumni Association.

“I seriously doubt that other options are considered,” he said. “There has to be something between the lottery-based process and Lowell’s (merit-based) admissions policy.”

Jill Tucker and Lauren Hernández are editors of the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected], [email protected]


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