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Explainer: Here’s how the fate of Lowell’s admissions will be decided

A student walks on Lowell's campus in 2021. | Camille Cohen

Noise around Lowell High’s controversial merit-based admissions has crescendoed again as the San Francisco Unified School District moves to extend the lottery system another year.

Lowell has used the regular lottery admissions since 2020, when the pandemic upended its selective admissions. And despite numerous back-and-forth votes, it stuck with that system. 

But the district’s stated intention all along has been to come up with a new policy that aligns with state law, which prohibits admissions to non-specialized public schools based on academic performance. Staying out of step with the California-wide standard would leave SFUSD open to lawsuits. 

So, how do SFUSD leaders plan to address that problem? If they go with the superintendent’s plan, they’d leave that up to a group specifically formed for the task. 

As we head into another hearing on the issue, here’s a look at what to expect. 

What Plan Is on the Table Right Now?

Superintendent Vincent Matthews proposed extending the current policy for the 2023-24 school year. Though he initially suggested selecting a point-person to issue recommendations, the superintendent now wants to assemble a task force to come up with improved policies and programs for all high schools.

This task force, as Matthews envisions it, would examine admissions policies for selective campuses, including Lowell and Ruth Asawa School of the Arts. And it will do the same for the district’s regular high schools. He also wants this group to present updates each quarter after rolling out its foundational recommendations by April 30.

Matthews’ plan requires discussion and then a vote, of course. Discussion is set for tonight; a vote for next week.

We’ve Been Talking About This For Ages. What’s Different This Time?

In short, the folks in charge have changed. 

As The Standard recently reported , three new commissioners appointed by Mayor London Breed in March support competitive admissions at Lowell. They replaced commissioners who voted to end selective admissions. 

Commissioner Ann Hsu, one of Breed’s appointees, previously told The Standard that merit-based admissions should return despite any risk of a legal challenge. 

If the proposal is not approved, Lowell would revert to its merit-based admissions process.

When and Where Can the Public Weigh In on the Plan?

The Board of Education will discuss the task-force proposal at 5 p.m. Thursday at 555 Franklin St. 

The meeting may be available over Zoom, however there are no guarantees. This week, meetings watched over Zoom meant viewing speakers with a blue filter à la James Cameron’s Avatar and the audio did not work at a special meeting on Wednesday evening.

If you want to weigh in, it’s probably better to err on the safe side and show up in person.

OK, But When Do They Actually Vote on Whether to Form This Task Force?

The Board of Education plans to vote when it meets at 5 p.m. Wednesday, also at 555 Franklin St. Zoom may be available … but refer to the above-mentioned warning about technical issues.