Anger, ‘Ugliness’ Mar San Francisco School Board Discussions

The coronavirus pandemic has forced some schools to revamp their admissions processes, as standardized testing and other traditional eligibility requirements became impossible to navigate. At one elite institution in San Francisco, proposed changes to the process have roiled school and community members, culminating in a chaotic school board meeting on Tuesday night.

As the San Francisco Chronicle reports, Lowell High School is considering switching to a mostly random, lottery-based admissions process similar to other schools in the area. Traditionally, acceptance has been based on high test scores and academic prowess.

Because of the pandemic, the grading system was shifted to pass/fail after schools shuttered in March and the state canceled annual standardized testing. The district could not adequately assess applicants as in years past, officials said.

While a final vote is expected in a week, a majority of board members voiced support for the proposal despite critics who called on them to consider alternatives to preserve the merit-based system.

The proposal, which became public Friday evening, shocked parents, students and alumni, with many lambasting the idea, saying Lowell is one of the best public schools in the country because entrance is based on merit.

There were interruptions and bickering over the issue at Tuesday’s night’s virtual gathering. At one point, Board member Alison Collins was overheard on a hot mic saying “I’m listening to a bunch of racists.”

“This was not a good day for San Francisco,” Trustee Rachel Norton said. “What I’ve heard tonight from people who claim to support our system and claim to support our students is disgusting. I’m really overcome by the ugliness.”

That ugliness is unlikely to sway the Board members. They appear to be leaning toward support of the lottery system at Lowell, which currently has an African American attendance of less than 2%. A final vote is expected next week.