Judge: Lowell admissions decision violated open meeting law

‘The district plainly failed to comply with this requirement’

A San Francisco Superior Court judge ruled Thursday The City’s school board violated state open meeting laws when it passed a resolution in February ending merit-based admissions at Lowell High School.

Judge Ethan Schulman agreed with plaintiffs the measure was passed in violation of the Brown Act, which requires appropriate and timely public notices, and set aside the resolution the district adopted.

However, the court’s decision may have little practical effect. The policy already has been enacted and the board may redo its decision in accordance with the law.

Still, Kate Lazarus, president of the Lowell Alumni Association, one of the petitioners, said: “We’re gratified by today’s ruling. The court recognized that the Board of Education used a flawed process to change the Lowell admissions policy. San Francisco students and families deserve public meetings that are transparent, inclusive and equitable.”

Previously Lowell High School had admitted students based on merit, rather than the usual lottery system, since 1966.

However, after an anti-racism training session was interrupted by anti-Black, anti-Semitic slurs and pornographic images, the board quickly moved to address the school culture, which had been long criticized by Black students. The school has a disproportionately low number of Black and Latino students with a majority Asian and white student body.

In response to the racist incident, the board passed a resolution that called for an equity audit to determine an action plan to address the issues of racism and demographic disparities. It called for creating an equity committee, as well as an end of the merit-based admissions policy.

Angered by the decision, an SFUSD graduate targeted President Gabriela López and member Alison Collins with violent imagery — photos of the two with swastikas on them set on fire by someone wearing a glove that appeared to be bloody. He later apologized.

Since the policy change, the school’s freshman class this year contained more Black and Latino students in decades, the Chronicle reported. But some students and alumni have fiercely defended the merit-based policy, arguing it upholds the school’s academic rigor and has been a boon for the upward mobility of Asian Americans.

The Friends of Lowell Foundation, Lowell Alumni Association and the Asian American Legal Foundation first filed suit in April in response the board’s resolution, arguing there was not proper notice before the decision was made. The judge agreed that the notice for the meeting was insufficient.

“The district plainly failed to comply with this requirement,” the judge wrote.

The judge declined a request from the petitioners to terminate the Equity Audit Committee. Moreover, a contract with the University of Kentucky to conduct an equity audit also remains intact.

López said she is still waiting to hear more about the decision but said in a text, “generally I stand by the board’s (policy) decision, that won’t change.”

The school board has faced numerous controversies including school reopenings and the renaming of schools. In addition, Collins filed a since-dismissed suit against SFUSD and her colleagues for $87 million after the board stripped her of her vice presidential role and committee assignments in response to resurfaced tweets critical of Asian Americans.

imojadad@sfexaminer.com

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