Students, families call for culture shift at Lowell after racist incident

District to explore changes including possible revision of admissions policy

Community members on Tuesday urged the school district to substantially change the culture of Lowell High School after racist messages overtook an anti-racism training last week.

Over the course of more than three hours, current and past students once again called for Lowell and San Francisco Unified School District administration to address an infamous, decades-long culture of racism at the school, which is known for its academically competitive admissions policy. Some even called for the principal or other administrators to be fired.

“Why are you paying people who aren’t doing their job protecting students?” asked student delegate Shavonne Hines-Foster, a Lowell senior and Black Student Union leader. “It’s not surprising to us but it’s surprising to you because you don’t address it and you let it go on. I’ve been carrying this school on my back. “

During an anti-racism training on Wednesday, anti-Black and anti-Semitic slurs and pornographic images flooded the online platform called Padlet in a space where students were meant to reflect on race and society. Students who first reported it to the administration felt the response, which seemed to attribute the incident to hackers, was dismissive about the possibility that it could have come from within the school community.

In response, school board Vice President Alison Collins and Board member Matt Alexander will soon bring forward a resolution to address the immediate needs of students and create a community committee to conduct an equity audit and develop an action plan. It will also outline broader cultural changes needed for Lowell and the district as a whole with partnership from the San Francisco National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the San Francisco Alliance of Black School Educators.

“These are not microaggressions, this is racist abuse,” Collins said. “No student should be going to a school perpetuating racism, that’s not healthy for any child. We need help and it’s time we acknowledge that.”

Superintendent Vincent Matthews, who said he had been admitted to Lowell as a teen but refused to attend knowing the culture that awaited, said he would work to implement the demands of the Black Student Union walkout from 2016. Students then demanded more Black students and staff, mandatory ethnic studies courses, and an African American Community Center at the site.

Bill Sanderson, the district’s assistant superintendent of high schools, said that there has been a decline in Black educators in the district since that walkout. He did note that a general student center was just constructed during the pandemic.

One solution many proposed is to rid the school of the admissions policy that has contributed to a student body that is disproportionately majority Asian and white, with Black and Latino students in the minority. The resolution will set up a process to address the policy.

“If it’s set up in that way where one group looks at itself as superior to others, I don’t think it’s a surprise that incidents like this are going to occur,” Matthews said. “I’m speaking from the heart tonight, it’s what I see as an elite school that is steeped in white supremacy culture. These aren’t isolated incidents.”

Some students and community members called for the removal of Lowell Principal Dacotah Swett, and asked for her to be replaced with a leader of color. Virginia Marshall, SFABSE president, indicated bigger changes may need to be made in light of students past and present recounting traumatic experiences in the aftermath of the incident.

“It was heartbreaking to hear the trauma that our students are suffering,” Marshall said. “Why do we want to have a school that causes lifelong harm? Do we dismantle, do we consolidate, what do we do? On [Swett’s] watch this current administration let harm come to our students. Should she continue in her role? I don’t think so.”

Collins and Matthews hope to introduce the resolution next week.

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