Lowell High School students and community members on Friday stood firm in calling for a change to the school’s culture and leadership after a recent display of racism sparked a crisis.
At a rally outside the school, Black Student Union leaders made 22 demands for the district to attract and retain underrepresented students, make clear a zero-tolerance policy for racism by students and staff, require ethnic studies as a graduation requirement, and to fire multiple administrators including the principal. It builds on demands made at a 2016 BSU-led walkout that have largely gone unfulfilled.
“Why is the idea of diversifying so terrifying? People want to protect Lowell from what? Black people?” asked freshman Hannah Chikere, one of some 45 Black students at Lowell. “Sometimes I wonder what would happen to me if I went to this school in person. Every student is judged down to the detail of their being. It’s insensitive to call our cries for help exaggerations or stories.”
Last month, an anti-racism lesson was flooded with anti-Black, anti-Semitic slurs and pornographic images on online platform Padlet. Initial communication by Lowell administrators suggested hackers were behind it, which upset students who felt it dismissed the likelihood that a fellow student was responsible. The students pointed out that the posts also received multiple likes by other participants.
“Because of how the Padlet was set up by the user, anyone with the link could post anonymously to it; however, we do believe that due to the fact that the link was shared directly with students, that it is highly likely it was a student,” said San Francisco Unified School District spokesperson Laura Dudnick on Friday. The investigation is ongoing, with interviews of staff and students.
Students from Lowelll’s Filipino-American Club and La Raza as well as School Board President Gabriela Lopez and student delegate Kathya Correa also spoke at Friday’s rally to urge significant change. Board members Mark Sanchez, Faauuga Moliga and Matt Alexander were in attendance, as was Supervisor Matt Haney, who served on the school board during the 2016 walkout.
“We are here today to not only denounce the attacks made on our Black and Jewish communities two weeks ago, but also to denounce Lowell High School’s longstanding history of upholding the effects of systemic racism,” said Lowell Student Association leaders Viviana Ojeda, Emmanuel Ching and Jessi Yu in a joint statement. “Black students should not have to walk out of class demanding changes that would make them feel safe in a learning environment, only to be in the same situation five years later, demanding the same changes that were promised five years prior. Students don’t need more ambiguous apologies — we want authentic action.”
Issues with racism at Lowell have been noted and documented for decades to no significant change, including by alumni from several decades back. But this time, movement is afoot.
School board members introduced a resolution last week that would set the stage to remake Lowell. It would require an equity audit to review 2016 demands and subsequent action plan by the end of the current school year while reviewing district policies around issues like harassment reporting and anti-racism curriculum.
The resolution would launch a community coalition with the Human Rights Commission’s Office of Racial Equity, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s state and local chapter to inform cultural changes, reporting back to the school board by September. It’s also backed by BSU leaders, African American Parent Advisory Council, and San Francisco Alliance of Black School Educators.
”A lot of these issues get swept under the rug so oftentimes BSU is the one that has to call them out,” said Shavonne Hines-Foster, Lowell BSU co-president and school board student delegate. “I think everyone’s starting to notice this is a real issue.”
Most notably, it would nix the merit-based admissions policy that’s out of compliance with current state educational code and credited as a key contributor to a culture of superiority from a majority Asian and white student body, with a disproportionately low number of Black and Latino students. The school board temporarily put the policy on hold due to the pandemic limiting testing, to great backlash over fear for lowering Lowell’s quality, and some are concerned about the quick process.
For many students and community members, the change has been a long time coming.
“Lowell belongs to all students, no one group has a monopoly on brains,” said Rev. Amos Brown, NAACP San Francisco president. “We’ve been waiting a long time for this. Hang in there.”
The school board will vote on the resolution at a Tuesday meeting beginning at 3 p.m.