Judge rules Lowell High School's lottery-based admissions violate California law

Lowell High School’s decision to end merit-based admissions is on hold, at least temporarily, after a San Francisco judge ruled on Thursday that the school board failed to follow state law in doing so.
Lowell High School’s decision to end merit-based admissions is on hold, at least temporarily, after a San Francisco judge ruled on Thursday that the school board failed to follow state law in doing so. Photo credit iStock/Getty Images Plus

Lowell High School's decision to end merit-based admissions is on hold, at least temporarily, after a San Francisco judge ruled on Thursday that the school board failed to follow state law in doing so.

San Francisco Superior Court Judge Ethan Schulman sided with the Friends of Lowell Foundation, Lowell Alumni Association and Asian American Legal Foundation on Thursday, agreeing with the plaintiffs that the San Francisco Board of Education violated the Brown Act by failing to provide adequate information to the public about a resolution that replaced Lowell's merit-based admissions system with a lottery, similar to other high schools in the district.

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Schulman ordered the board to set aside the resolution, writing that the plaintiffs sent four letters notifying the board it was in violation of the Brown Act. The judge said the board never responded to the letters.

"Had it done so, it could have long since cured the defect, and would not now be facing the problems it complains of," Schulman wrote.

The San Francisco Unified School District told KCBS Radio in an emailed statement the "Board of Education will meet to review the Court's decision within the next 30 days." At that point, the district will have a better understanding of the decision's impact.

The school board voted 5-2 in February to change Lowell’s admissions process to a lottery-based system, following students’ complaints of ongoing racism and elitism. Lowell had previously decided to admit students for the 2021-22 school year based on a lottery, amid the widespread educational impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Plaintiffs filed the lawsuit in April, naming the board, district and Superintendent Vincent Matthews.

Schulman’s decision allows for the board to re-institute a lottery-based admissions process, provided it gives proper notice of the resolution ahead of a subsequent school board meeting. The judge dismissed the district lawyers’ contention that it would be “impracticable” to change to a merit-based system with enrollment for the 2022-23 school year already underway, writing “the District and the Board only have themselves to blame” for “any additional burdens.”

"It is up to the Board how it wishes to proceed, which may include the option of re-noticing the Resolution for a public hearing in compliance with the Brown Act," he wrote.

You can read the judge's ruling in its entirety below.