Lowell High School admissions will revert to merit-based system after SF school board vote

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After nearly two years of intense and bitter debate, test scores and grades will once again determine which San Francisco students will be admitted to Lowell High School after the city’s school board decided to revert to merit-based admissions on Wednesday. .

In a 4-3 split vote, the school board decided to reinstate the previous merit process after two years of using a lottery-based system. The vote will now apply to incoming freshmen in fall 2023 as well as future classes, unless the board takes further action in the future to change the admissions process.

A decision, which will include an appointed task force, will address a long-term process in the coming months as the district appoints a task force to review high school improvement while analyzing competitive admissions at Lowell and other colleges. other sites.

The majority of the board rejected Superintendent Vince Matthews’ recommendation to keep the lottery process in place for another year, even though he cited significant challenges in bringing back merit-based admission before the start of the season. registrations in the fall.

Those who support merit-based admission said they would work to address real equity issues in the district while supporting academic excellence.

Board member Lainie Motamedi said she was not in favor of a one-year extension with the lottery and that the district should seek to meet the needs of all children.

“There are not these children, these children, these are all our children. There are not these schools, and these schools. These are all our schools,” she said. not be a zero-sum game where we pit ourselves against each other.”

President Jenny Lam, Ann Hsu and Lisa Weismann-Ward have joined Motamedi in restoring merit-based admissions.

Board Vice Chairman Kevine Boggess voted to extend the lottery, saying he wanted to depoliticize the issue, while the community had a conversation about why the district has a school “that is considered superior to others”.

Council members Matt Sanchez and Matt Alexander also voted to extend the lottery.

The decision could result in another trial, with opponents citing a State Law which prohibits the academic criteria for admission to comprehensive high schools.

Hundreds of residents have spoken out in recent weeks about the admissions process at Lowell, with anger and emotions often boiling over at rallies, petitions and at board meetings.

Opponents of the merit system have cited a predominance of Asian Americans at the school as well as racism and harassment of black and brown students at Lowell, noting that under the lottery the school has seen an increase in the diversity.

“The lottery system means Lowell is diverse,” said Virginia Marshall, president of the San Francisco Alliance of Black Educators and NAACP representative. “It’s not just for one ethnic group. This is for all students who choose to make Lowell their home.

Proponents of the merit system argued that city students need options, including a rigorous academic environment that provides a private academic education in a free public school and admission should be based on hard work and academic achievement.

The school board should focus on preparing all students from underrepresented communities for merit-based admission to Lowell, Rex Ridgeway said.

“Let’s fix elementary and middle schools in Bayview (neighborhood) so they’re prepared,” he said.

The board’s decision was the latest inflection point in the nearly two-year saga involving clashing officials, a lawsuit and accusations of racism over which students are eligible to attend Lowell, long considered the one of the most successful public high schools in the country.

The board first approved the move to a lottery system in October 2020, citing a lack of academic data given the move to remote learning earlier that year.

A majority of the board then made the decision permanent four months later, citing a lack of diversity and racism in elite college schools. But the rushed vote sparked a lawsuit and then the judge’s ruling that the district violated laws related to the Brown Act, which regulate open meetings.

The council then had to backtrack, reversing the decision before extending the lottery process for another year.

A vote on the mural was expected to follow the Lowell decision later that evening, with the council potentially reversing all previous decisions to cover up the mural, which features images of slavery and white settlers stepping over a dead Native American.

As in Lowell’s case, the council’s decision to darken the mural depicting the life of George Washington was challenged in court and again the district lost.

A judge determined the district violated laws requiring an environmental impact report before voting on an action plan, forcing the district to “overrule” decisions.

The majority of council initially voted to paint the mural in 2019 before backtracking and deciding whether to cover it with curtains or panels.

The controversy, which captured international headlines, pitted the issue of racial equity against artistic freedom and historic preservation at a time of reflection on race and reparations for historic atrocities and associated public protests. to America’s ugly past.

The board’s vote on Wednesday would comply with the judge’s orders and a settlement with the George Washington High School Alumni Association, which filed the mural lawsuit.

Jill Tucker is a staff writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: jtucker@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @jilltucker


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