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Judge Orders School District to Rescind Change to Lottery-Based Admissions at Lowell High

Written by Annie GausPublished Nov. 18, 2021 • 12:14pm

A judge on Thursday rolled back changes the San Francisco Unified School District made to the admissions policy at its flagship Lowell High, citing violations of open meeting laws.

San Francisco Superior Court Judge Ethan Schulman ruled in favor of a motion from the Friends of Lowell Foundation, Lowell Alumni Association, and Asian American Legal Foundation. The groups filed a lawsuit earlier this year after the Board of Education approved a resolution making admissions at Lowell High, the city’s top magnet high school, lottery-based rather than merit-based. 

The lawsuit accused the district and school board of violating the Brown Act, which requires certain public noticing and due process for resolutions making changes to school policy, and asked the court for an injunction to invalidate the resolution. 

Schulman granted the request, but left open the possibility that the school board could again consider a resolution to make Lowell lottery-based, so long as they observe due process: At Thursday’s hearing, Schulman declined a request by plaintiff’s attorney Jim Sutton to specifically include a clause dictating that the defendants must “reinstate merit-based admissions at Lowell.” 

In an email to the SF Standard, SFUSD spokesperson Laura said that the school board will meet to review the court's decision in the next 30 days, and will have more information on the impact of the decision then.

"San Francisco students and families deserve public meetings that are transparent, inclusive, and equitable," said Kate Lazarus, president of the Lowell Alumni Association, in a statement. "The Lowell Alumni Association will continue to advocate for these principles every step of the way to ensure Lowell remains one of the best public high schools in the United States."

Citing equity concerns, the school board voted in February 2021 to permanently rescind Lowell’s merit-based admissions policy in favor of the lottery system used by all but two public high schools in the city. (One other magnet school, Ruth Asawa School of the Arts, has competitive admissions.) Lowell’s student body of roughly 2,900 skews more Asian and white than the district as a whole, with around half of students identified as Asian and 18% as white. Black and Latino students made up 2% and 12% of the student body as of 2020, compared to 28% and 6% in the district as a whole. 

The change in admissions at Lowell—long considered one of the country’s top public high schools—sparked outrage among some alumni groups, who questioned the timing of the change and called the process “arbitrary and capricious” in a legal filing.  

Schulman’s order conceded that the school board did not describe the relevant agenda item properly, which amounted to a violation of the Brown Act. Further, the court found that the board ignored requests by petitioners to remedy the violation by re-noticing the meeting.

Annie Gaus can be reached at

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