SF school board narrowly vote to end Lowell lottery; Breed appointees the difference

Lowell High School exterior in San Francisco.
Four months after San Francisco voted to recall three school board members, their mayor-appointed successors cast difference-making votes in reimplementing merit-based admissions at Lowell High School. Photo credit Mallory Somera/KCBS Radio

SAN FRANCISCO (KCBS RADIO) – Four months after San Francisco voted to recall three school board members, their mayor-appointed successors cast deciding votes in reimplementing merit-based admissions at Lowell High School.

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The San Francisco Board of Education on Wednesday night voted 4-3 to use the previous system, rather than the lottery of the last two years, starting with freshmen enrolling for the 2023-24 school year.

Commissioners Ann Hsu, Lainie Motamendi and Lisa Weissman-Ward voted in favor of reestablishing merit-based admission, as did board president Jenny Lam. Outgoing Superintendent Vincent Matthews recommended keeping the lottery for another year.

San Francisco Mayor London Breed appointed Hsu, Motamendi and Weissman-Ward in March to replace recalled commissioners Alison Collins, Gabriela López and Fauugaa Moliga. Breed, who endorsed the school board recall last November, also appointed Lam to the board in 2019.

Collins, López and Moliga all voted in favor of changing admissions to a lottery system similar to the district’s other high schools. Michael Hartney, a Boston College professor and political scientist, shared research with the San Francisco Chronicle in March showing that the prestigious high school’s admission change was perhaps the driving force behind the recall.

Hartney found that precincts voting in 2020 against statewide Proposition 16 – which would've repealed a constitutional amendment barring affirmative action in employment and public education – were much likelier to vote in favor of the recall.

The San Francisco Board of Education voted 5-2 last February to change Lowell’s admissions process to a random lottery for the 2021-22 school year, rather than a system based on grades and test scores, following current and former students' allegations of racism and elitism. Lowell High School admitted students based on a lottery the previous school year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Opponents, including alumni groups that successfully sued the school and alleged it violated state law by failing to provide proper notice, have argued that the lottery punished high-achieving students who would be better-served in a competitive educational environment.

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