SAN FRANCISCOThe San Francisco Board of Education is considering a temporary change to Lowell High School’s regular admissions policy due to logistics challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic, and will vote on the issue on Tuesday, October 20. 

Lowell High School is a nationally-recognized public school, renowned for its high academic performance. The school uses a merit-based system taking into account grade point average and standardized testing scores. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Lowell High School Admissions Board does not have access to data available. Standardized testing was cancelled and students from the spring semester of 2020 were graded based on the credit/no credit system, making Lowell’s system impossible to enact in the 2021-2022 school year. 

As a result, the SFUSD recommended that for the 2021-2022 school year admissions cycle, incoming 9th grade students who wish to attend Lowell High School can follow the same application process used for all SFUSD high schools, known as the “lottery system.” 

The Board will vote to confirm this temporary policy change at the regular board meeting

ABC7 SF did a video interview with Gabriela Lopez, Vice President of the SFUSD Board of Education who said, “This is to me, an exciting opportunity.” She noted the board will vote on an admission policy change for one year on October 20. However, when asked if she would like to see Lowell be a part of San Francisco’s general lottery system beyond the school year and into the future, Lopez said, “Yes, and in any future vote, if that comes up, I will vote yes.” 

Lopez, who graduated with a degree in Liberal and Genders Studies, became an elementary school teacher, and later Vice President of the SFUSD Board of Education at 28. She mentions race numerous times as well as “white privilege” on her Twitter and Facebook feeds. The Vice President said she wanted to eliminate admissions based on grades and test scores to increase the Black American and Latino populations of Lowell High School. 

“One thing that I’ve been hearing from the actual student body at Lowell is more representation in the African American community and the Latino community,” said Lopez.

Photo of Gabriela Lopez. Photo courtesy of Instagram.

On a Facebook video, she described her obsession with eliminating the Lowell High School merit-based system. “Next week’s vote is going to be pivotal, monumental, and imperative to for all to speak who support the elimination of merit based and illegal entrances into our public schools.”

Opponents decry the loss of the merit-based system that rewarded academically high-achieving middle schoolers. They angrily complained during an SFUSD Zoom meeting held on October 13, expressing fear that the decision will lead to a decline of the renowned public high school’s academic performance. People opposed the plan in a 30-minute space of time set aside for discussion. The parents urged the SFUSD to reconsider their decision taking into consideration the concerns of community members and parents in what was described as a “heated” discussion by an online blog uploaded by SFUSD Board member Alison Collins. 

Thousands of people signed a petition opposing the temporary admittance into the lottery system in which all incoming freshmen would have equal odds regardless of test scores or grades.

The description reads: “San Francisco families caught off guard by the proposal for a 100% lottery admission at Lowell would like to know the district has exhausted all options to maintain the academic legacy at Lowell High School. Parents, students, and alumni are worried that the transition will become permanent and remove one of the two remaining academic and merit-based public high schools in the city.”

The petition description also described Lowell High School as one of the “gems of public education.” Comments by petition signers were available. Lowell alumni and community members described the proposal as “tragic” and undermining “the very tenants of academic excellence and choice that the District claims to uphold.” The petition was posted on Change.org, which circulates petitions through email, social media and the website itself in return for donations. 

One petition signer named Cheresa NG wrote, “Please do not take away the only Academic, Merit-based public high school in SF. It provided a great academic environment for low income immigrants like me and many others. Because of Lowell’s high educational standard, I was able to enter a top University and became a physician.”

As of 12:29 a.m. on October 19, 7,727 people signed the petition. 

Claudia Furst mentioned charges of economic elitism: 

“I always thought that Lowell has a multi-wave admission process that results in a large percentage of below-poverty-line students, with significant proportions of recent immigrants, many first-generation college-bound. Where are these accusations of racism and economic elitism coming from?? It’s a magnet school because it requires a lot of hardwood from smart and focused youth (sleep deprivation is an issue). It’s a great learning environment, please SFUSD, don’t mess with it – do what the Lowell community recommends.”

John Trasviña, attorney, long-time civil rights advocate, and president of the Lowell High alumni association wrote an opinion piece titled “S.F. school board undermines Lowell High’s academic excellence,” suggesting that the proposal be withdrawn until community and family concerns are heard and addressed. 

In response to allegations of “elitism,” he pointed out that the school is serving many working class and poor families: “Lowell students are often their family’s first to go to college and come from immigrant and working-class backgrounds. Nearly 40% of Lowell students qualify for reduced or free lunch.”

Proponents of the plan from the public say they support Lowell High School entering the lottery system to increase “diversity” and increase enrollment from the Black American community. Historically, the school board has made attempts to alter the demographics of the school. There have been reports of discrimination against Black Americans according to a PBS NewsHour report. 

The San Francisco Chronicle reported SFUSD Board of Education President Mark Sanchez commenting, “The board isn’t doing this to people. The staff isn’t doing this to people. COVID is doing this to people.”

He said the decision would not even be on the table if it were not for the pandemic: “I get it, but we’re in a bind, and the circumstances were not of our choosing. If COVID hadn’t happened, this wouldn’t be on the table.”

The San Francisco Chronicle reported district officials considering options other than lottery, including having teachers and officials select students on academic merit, which would be difficult to implement under pandemic logistics. 

SFUSD Board member Alison Collins, a proponent of the proposal, wrote numerous tweets accusing people of “white supremacy.” She said the merit-based system was an “inherently racist construct” designed and centered on “white supremacist framing.”

Alison Collins Tweets on merit system
(Twitter post)

Twitter users called her a racist and a “trash being.” Comments included themes about removing her from the Board of Education and concerns about the condition of the United States public education system.

Chris Copeland wrote, “Pretty sad when the people “educating” our young… are educating them with racist nonsense like this.”

Another Twitter user under the screen name “Sis2020” said, “You pathetic loser failed doing your job and now you are attacking the hard working parents who funded your six-figure salary? You need to get the F out of our education system! We have too many parasites like you! GET OUT!”

Comments on Collins’ Tweet

The SFUSD 2020 Board of Education Meeting Documents Archive can be viewed here:  https://www.sfusd.edu/about/board-of-education/board-education-meetings/2020-meeting-documents-archive

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As a 24-year old college graduate with a BA in History, and with political interests mainly in international relations in Europe and the Middle East, I hope to use my strengths in modern world history to contribute to news stories covering my main areas of interest. Though the focus of the San Francisco News is local news, there is a newfound dedication to give a voice to community members in need, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. The political year known as 2020 has also given the people much to be anxious about, and I hope to give them a voice.