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Lowell Admissions Awaits Vote—Again. What’s Different This Time?

Written by Ida MojadadPublished Jun. 09, 2022 • 6:08pm
Lowell High School students leave campus during lunch hour in the Sunset District SFUSD campus on May 25, 2022. | Camille Cohen/The Standard

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Come Thursday, the San Francisco Board of Education will discuss whether to keep Lowell High School in the regular lottery system for another year.

San Francisco Unified School District Superintendent Vincent Matthews proposed the extension for the 2023-24 school year while resolving to anoint someone to recommend a new admissions policy for the school by April. 

The school board will discuss on the matter at a special meeting on June 16, according to SFUSD school board President Jenny Lam. It will vote on the resolutions on June 22, district spokesperson Laura Dudnick added.

If this sounds familiar, it’s because the Board of Education has voted on Lowell admissions numerous times since 2020, when the pandemic upended its typical merit-based criteria. Only this time, the decision will come after shake-ups in SFUSD leadership. 

A permanent change to the lottery system was enacted in February 2021 after another racist incident shook the school—one with disproportionately low numbers of Black and Latino students that critics say is a symptom of gatekeeping who can enroll in the public school. 

The change was later undone by a court order that found the vote violated open meeting laws. Matthews successfully recommended a one-year extension to allow time for a new admissions policy—but a promised stakeholder engagement process that never got off the ground.

Outdoing Superintendent Dr. Vincent Matthews delivers remarks after Dr. Matt Wayne was introduced as the new Superintendent of Schools for the San Francisco Unified School District, in the Breyer Board Meeting Room at district headquarters in San Francisco, California on Thursday, May 12, 2022. Wayne previously served as Superintendent for the Hayward Unified School District. | Don Feria for The Standard

“We recognize that the last few months were a challenging time for the district as they worked to select a new superintendent, address a budget shortfall, and remedy the payroll system for teachers,” Lowell Alumni Association President Kate Lazarus said in a May statement. “Now the time has come to provide clarity and stability to San Francisco families and meet community demands by starting the process for academic admissions.”

Three new commissioners appointed by Mayor London Breed joined the board in March after a recall shaped by the future of Lowell admissions ousted three commissioners. 

All three new commissioners support a special admissions policy for Lowell, replacing board members who voted to nix the pre-existing policy and place the school into the lottery system. 

The school’s new principal also resigned in April, blasting SFUSD in a letter for not supporting administrators. 

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Cities like Alexandria, Virginia and Chicago, Illinois went through similar debates around merit and diversity, coming up with a “middle ground” that is still shaped by grade performance. SFUSD has maintained that a new admissions policy must adhere to state education law, which prohibits public schools from making enrollment decisions based on a student’s academic performance. 

One of the new commissioners, Ann Hsu, previously told The Standard that merit-based admissions should return, regardless of any legal threat.

“We’ve had many legal challenges on many decisions that were quite ridiculous in my opinion,” Hsu said in March. “If we are subject to legal challenge, then go ahead.”

Vice President Kevine Boggess, for his part, said he “has a hard time not following the recommendations of staff when it comes to programmatic things in the district.”
The special meeting will begin at 5 p.m. Thursday at 555 Franklin St. Check the Board of Education website for a Zoom link before the meeting.

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly cited the date of a vote on the Lowell High admissions policy. A discussion is scheduled for June 16, while a vote on the resolutions is planned for June 22. The Standard regrets the error.

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Ida Mojadad can be reached at [email protected]


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