S.F. set to move forward on choice-based admission at Lowell

Vote expected next week, just ahead of application deadline

By Bay City News

The San Francisco Unified School District said it will move forward with plans to continue using a choice-based admissions system for Lowell High School for the next school year after a judge last month ruled the district’s first attempt to do so violated state law.

A San Francisco Superior Court judge ruled the district and the San Francisco Board of Education violated the Brown Act for government transparency earlier this year when they changed Lowell’s merit-based admissions process to a choice-based one that’s used for all other competitive high schools in the district.

The board approved the change in February, and the change went into effect for the current school year.

The recent court ruling, however, deemed the original resolution “null and void.” But the ruling said the district and school board could still move forward with changing the admissions policy, so long as the board holds a public hearing in compliance with the Brown Act.

In a statement Wednesday, SFUSD Superintendent Vincent Matthews announced he will propose a resolution at the Dec. 7 board meeting to uphold the choice-based system that’s currently in effect for the upcoming 2022-2023 school year, as applications for student placements are due in nearly two months.

“We recognize that in light of the recent court decision, families are anxious to know what the admissions process will be for applying to Lowell for the 2022-23 school year,” Matthews said. “It would be logistically impossible to establish and implement any selective admissions criteria prior to the application deadline of Feb. 4 so I am recommending we maintain our current admissions practice for Lowell for the upcoming school year.”

The proposed resolution could be a temporary fix as the board considers alternatives, district officials said.

Matthews anticipates the board would vote on the resolution at a special meeting Dec. 16. Families would then immediately be notified on the board’s decision.

According to district officials, the choice-based system is used for placement at other comprehensive public schools in The City because comprehensive high schools don’t have a designated attendance area like other schools.

Students can list their top choices and the district will place them at their highest-ranked school, as long as there is space. If the demand is too high at a school, choice assignments are made through a “series of tiebreakers,” district officials said.

Before the change went into effect, admissions to the competitive high school were based on grade point average.

The admissions change was made in response to ongoing racism being reported at the school by students. However, the change drew criticism from several groups, including the Lowell Alumni Association, which sued the district and school board along with other groups, resulting in the recent court ruling.

On Nov. 25, Lowell Alumni Association officials urged the district to come up with an admissions solution soon with the application deadline nearing.

“We also encourage the Board of Education to initiate a deliberative and community-driven process to assess the best admissions policy for Lowell in the long term. The Lowell Alumni Association does not believe that an academic-based admissions system is incompatible with diversity, equity, and inclusion,” association officials said.

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