Academic admission standards dropped at a San Francisco H.S.

San Francisco's Board of Education on Tuesday removed grade and standardize tests for admission to its nationally acclaimed Lowell High School, in hopes of increasing racial diversity.

Lowell, long a lightning rod for issues of race in education, had been the San Francisco Unified School District's only 9-12 campus to base admission on a formula of grades and standardized test scores for most students. The board voted 5-2 to use the regular admissions process for future admissions to the school and for an equity audit led by community leaders.

That process has "created a school that does not reflect the diversity of SFUSD students and perpetuates segregation and exclusion," according to the resolution passed by the board on Tuesday.

The California Education Code specifically states that "high-demand schools must enroll students through a random, unbiased process," according to the resolution.

Of Lowell's 2,871 students, 18.1 percent are white, 11.5 percent Hispanic, 1.8 percent Black and 50.6 percent Asian, largely Chinese, according to the most recent state education data. That compares to the district's 52,778 total enrollment of 14.9 percent white, 28.2 percent Hispanic, 6.4 percent Black and 33.4 percent Asian.

Dropping academic requirements for a school — which boasts alumni such as U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, San Francisco Giants CEO Larry Baer, Broadway great Carol Channing and three Nobel Prize laureates — is a hot-button topic among Lowell grads.

The Lowell Alumni Association said it's opposed to "changing the Lowell admissions policy to a lottery" among applicants.

"We fully recognize that Lowell has not provided a supportive environment to far too many students, and that in particular, Black and Latinx students have faced unconscionable racism during their Lowell years," according to an association statement this week.

"However, we do not believe that an academic-based admissions system is incompatible with diversity, equity, and inclusion."

Lowell students shared their support for the resolution at the school board meeting.

"We look forward to amplify voices of all students to continue this fight for equity," Jessi Yu, student body council president and senior, said. "These issues of race, mental health, sexual harassment all stem from a school that breeds elitism and hate and that makes any sort of progress unobtainable."

Board President Gabriela Lopez said that a culture shift is needed in the district's schools.

"This resolution comes after years of advocacy from students and community members. Led and supported by our students, it reflects our collaboration with numerous outside partners and creates a community coalition, including an external mechanism for accountability,” Lopez said in a statement.

Lowell already went to a random lottery for 2021-22 admission in what had been billed as a temporary measure, citing Covid-19 restrictions that prevented all necessary student data to be collected.