The Superior Court of California ruled on Thursday that the San Francisco Board of Education’s decision to remove a merit-based admissions system to Lowell High School earlier this year is to be nullified.
In February, the SF Board of Education voted 5-2 to end the merit-based admissions system at Lowell High School, the city’s top performing public high school. The school board members who voted to end the system, which includes three members currently facing a recall election next year – Gabriela Lopez, Alison Collins, and Faauuga Moliga – said the school had a lack of diversity, was not representative of the demographics in the area, and was representative of pervasive systematic racism. Some members specifically pointed to the school having around 80% of it’s students being Asian, white, or of mixed white-Asian ancestry, despite those numbers roughly being accurate to current demographic combined percentages.
As a result, the move was immediately criticized by many, with Lowell Alumni and Asian American groups backing a major lawsuit to reverse the decision. Other groups, such as neighborhood groups, didn’t sue but felt slighted by not having any input into the decision.
“They should have asked what the community felt, what alumni felt, and maybe look into other ways to help students get in based on grades,” said Catherine Han, a local resident who lives two blocks away from the school to the Globe on Thursday. “But they just thought they knew what was best without asking. The whole resolution was such a mess that you would have thought kids wrote it rather than people who knew what they were doing.”
While Lowell admission is based on Middle School scores combined with state testing scores, the process was temporarily changed to a lottery due to difficulties in accurately grading students during the stay-at-home school classes during the pandemic in 2020. When in-person classes resumed this year, that was when the Board voted to make the change permanent.
The Lowell Alumni Association, the Friends of Lowell Foundation and the Asian American Legal Foundation all argued in court that the Board’s vote went against the Brown Act by failing to post an agenda containing a minimally adequate description of the resolution.
Lowell HS admission policy overturned for now
The court agreed on Thursday, but noted that while the the February decision is now void, the Board can vote again on the new academic standards as long as they don’t violate the Brown Act next time.
“Neither the vague title of the Resolution nor the Background text provided any description of the item of business to be transacted or discussed by the Board — i.e., the elimination of Lowell’s merit-based admissions process,” said Judge Ethan Schulman in his Friends of Lowell Foundation v. San Francisco Board of Education ruling. “The Court is not directly ordering the District to reinstate its prior admissions policy; rather, it is finding the Resolution null and void. It is up to the Board how it wishes to process, which may include the option of re-noticing the Resolution for a public hearing in compliance with the Brown Act.”
Despite the Board possibly removing the merit-based system again in the near future, those in favor of the merit-based system celebrated the ruling on Thursday.
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