SF school board presents resolution to change merit admission at Lowell High

If the resolution eventually passes, Lowell will be part of the district's random lottery system just like any other school. The issue is a divisive one.

Lyanne Melendez Image
Wednesday, February 3, 2021
Lowell High could become part of SF's random lottery system
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The San Francisco School Board is introducing a resolution today to end the selective admission process at Lowell High School.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- The San Francisco School Board will introduce a resolution Tuesday to end the selective admission process at Lowell High School. Lowell has been ranked among the top high schools in the country.

If the resolution eventually passes, Lowell will be part of the district's random lottery system just like any other school. The issue is a divisive one.

RELATED: Lowell High School may move to lottery admissions, SF school district announces

Lowell High School is the oldest public high school west of the Mississippi. It's quite often referred to as one of the nation's academic gems.

There are two factors needed to get into Lowell. A high grade point average and students must excel in their admissions test.

No other high school in San Francisco other than the Ruth Asawa School of the Arts has admission requirements.

"The hardest working kids in terms of academics," expressed Richard Shapiro, a physics teacher there.

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All the other public high schools in San Francisco participate in what the district calls its random lottery system.

Adding Lowell to that regular selection process is something that several previous and present school board members have wanted for some time.

"I hope to get to a place where all of our high schools are high schools that students want to go to, that students dream of going to just like Lowell. I think they should all be at that level," said Commissioner Gabriela Lopez in an interview with ABC7 news last October.

"They have an agenda they've politicized what I would say is victimhood or victimization and they've turned it into politics," added Shapiro.

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For a long time, the school board has had an issue with Lowell's lack of diversity. Two percent of the student body is African American. But you have to put that in context because African Americans make up 5.2 percent of the population in San Francisco.

Like at other high schools in the city, the issue of systemic racism has also plagued Lowell as recently as last moment when anti-Black and Anti-Semitic slurs appeared on a school messaging platform.

And in 2016 Black students rallied in front of City Hall after this poster created by another minority group showed rappers and a picture of then President Obama wearing a diamond stud earring and the hashtag "gang." The poster was meant to acknowledge the accomplishments of African Americans.

VIDEO: Emotional public response to resolution to permanently end merit-based admission at Lowell High

At Tuesday's Board of Education meeting, both supporters and critics of the resolution were emotional about the need to end racism at the school.

"Twenty minutes before this meeting started, we discovered more acts of racism towards Black students at Lowell," said Megan Law, a Lowell student and vice president of the Student Advisory Council, who supports the resolution.

Erin Hanlon, a social studies teacher at Lowell, said she's against the plan.

"I am tired of my students being hurt and race-blind admissions does not increase diversity, it decreases it."

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Students, alumni, parents, teachers and community members spoke in support of the controversial plan during public comment.

"Lowell High School has brutalized mentally our African American students," said Virginia Marshall, with San Francisco's Alliance of Black School Educators.

Fatima, who graduated from Lowell in 2013, said this about her time at the school. "All my years at Lowell, I was labeled loud, ratchet, obnoxious, and a whole bunch of other derogatory names towards the LatinX community."

"If you can fix this, provide a school where all students can go to a place that isn't a political football, a racist cesspool, or a mental health challenge. I want that for my future alumnae," said Lowell alum, Debra Jones.

Voices against the resolution were just as powerful.

"Lowell is beacon of hope for low-income students like myself. It means that if you try hard enough, you can receive an education on par or better than elite private schools, " said Lowell student, Amy Chang. "The lottery system is inherently flawed."

Lisa Li Moye is a Lowell alum and said this about her time at SFUSD schools, "At MLK, I was bullied and having the goal of getting into Lowell kept me from having suicidal thoughts. After being admitted and surrounded by driven students, I got out of this dark place. I want to say Lowell saved my life."

School Board president, Gabriela Lopez says the board expects to decide by Friday when a vote on the resolution will take place. She says there will be opportunity for more public comment.