A letter from Lowell alumni and students

[This post was written last fall and now contains outdated information. In February of 2021, changes to the selective enrollment policy were made permanent by the Board. Per the “In Response to Ongoing, Pervasive Systemic Racism at Lowell High School” Resolution, students applying to Lowell will use the application form used for SFUSD’s comprehensive high schools indefinitely.

The resolution also calls on the SF Board of Education to initiate a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) process with the Education and Civil Rights Initiative (CRI) of the University of Kentucky College of Education, Lexington KY, in collaboration with the SF NAACP, California NAACP, and National NAACP to facilitate the creation of a Community Coalition to define and oversee an equity audit and the resulting action plan to “address the exclusion and ongoing toxic racist abuse that students of color, and specifically Black students, have experienced at Lowell High School since the school’s creation.” Learn more about the audit and resolution on the SFUSD website.]

As you may have heard, the SF Board of Education is currently considering a temporary change to Lowell High School’s regular admissions policy.

The existing Lowell High School Admissions Board Policy uses grade point average and Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) scores from a student’s 7th grade and the first semester of 8th grade to offer admission to Lowell High School.

Neither of these data are available for this year’s applicants due to Covid-19 which closed schools this last spring and canceled standardized testing throughout the state.

As a result, SFUSD has recommended that for the 2021 — 22 school year admissions cycle only, incoming 9th grade students who live in San Francisco and wish to apply to Lowell High School can follow the same application process used for all District comprehensive high schools.

In order to meet the timeline for the fall enrollment process, the Board of Education plans to vote to confirm this temporary policy change at the regular board meeting this coming Tuesday, October, 20th.

Last Tuesday, October 13th. the Board reviewed the proposed policy. At this meeting, members of the public came out to share their opinions during public comment. Some participants questioned the policy and expressed concerns that the temporary admissions change would allow an influx of undesirable students. At several times, comments grew heated, and adults even shouted down a student representative as she was speaking. (You can listen here.) This student, who is an elected representative serving on the Board, has reported she is now receiving death threats as a result of her comments.

This past week, I have heard from many Lowell students, teachers and alumni, who report they are experiencing anti-Blackness online and in social media spaces. Multiple alumni, students and teachers, have told me they feel their voices are being muted in discussions about their school. Some have also shared concerns for the safety of students.

Yesterday, Commissioners received a statement from a group of concerned Lowell alumni and students who want to provide a different view than is being presented in the Chronicle and in many online spaces.

With their permission, I am sharing their letter to the Board. For their safety, they have chosen to remain anonymous. The introductory email reads: “We are not shouting, we are speaking, and we want to listen and work with you. We ask that you please take a look at what we have to say.”

Their statement follows…

We are a group of progressive Lowell alumni and students who are advocates for a diverse, inclusive and equitable Lowell High School, focusing on underrepresented and unheard students. We believe that the current Lowell Alumni Association does not represent all alumni, and that the current school administration does not support all students. We would like future students, the community, the Board of Education, and other stakeholders to be made aware that we are willing to work together to develop solutions to achieve diversity, equity, and inclusion at Lowell, and improve the toxic culture currently in place there.

Specifically, and initially, we are in support of Board Resolution №208–25A2 — “In Support of Creating a K-12 Black Studies Curriculum that Honors Black Lives, Fully Represents the Contributions of Black People in Global Society, and Advances the Ideology of Black Liberation for Black Scholars in the San Francisco Unified School District.” We support the infusion of Black Studies, as well as Ethnic Studies, in the SFUSD curriculum. We support this resolution as it is consistent with the expansion of other ethnic-specific elective courses, such as Black Studies, Asian American studies, Latinx/Chicanx Studies, Native American Studies that have been previously approved by the Board of Education.

Next, we are also in support of the Superintendent’s Resolution to Adopt an Interim Lowell Admissions Policy for the 2021–22 School Year. We understand the District’s need to address the challenges that have resulted from the pandemic. We recognize that the Board will, and should, re-evaluate the Lowell Admissions Policy for the 2022–23 School Year with the input of stakeholders in the community.

We make this statement, not to question the District’s decision, but to reject the ideas and sentiments expressed by the groups vehemently opposing the proposed lottery admission to Lowell. These assertions, pushed by a specific, vocal faction of adults, some parents of prospective and current students and some alumni, smack of elitism and racism in our view. In particular, we are offended by any notion that a lottery admission to Lowell will “destroy”
Lowell’s academic reputation, and spell “the end” of Lowell. If Lowell is that academically, curricular, pedagogically, and spiritually weak- a revisioning is definitely needed.

Opponents of the lottery admission policy assert that if Lowell lets in “just anyone,” its reputation for academic rigor will somehow be “ruined” and Lowell will become like any other high school in the District. This premise is presumptive, patently false, patronizing, and should be rejected on its face. First, we recognize that nothing in the proposal requires Lowell to alter its academic program or philosophy. The proposal requires no change to staffing or curriculum. Second, this premise fails to acknowledge that only those students who choose Lowell will be placed in the lottery; students who DO NOT choose Lowell will NOT be placed in the lottery and will not be assigned to Lowell against their will. Third, we recognize that each of the high schools in San Francisco is unique in its community, climate and culture, programming, leadership, and/or academic environment. For example, we acknowledge and celebrate that Mission High School is known for its strong social justice programs; Lincoln High School is known for its Career Academies and Galileo High School is focused on Science and Technology. We feel that those who assert most insidiously, that the high schools in San Francisco are all the same, and that Lowell is the exception and should be elevated above them all is elitist and uninformed.

Opponents of the policy also raise concerns for the well-being of “unprepared” students who would not have been admitted under the old model and who would be shoulder-to-shoulder with their high achieving, academically competitive children. Similar concerns were raised before the U.S. Supreme Court in past and recent attacks against the admissions policies of highly selective colleges, such as University of California. This “mis-match” theory is inherently flawed and patronizing, and has been soundly rejected as such.

The sad reality is that many students at Lowell today are struggling academically and particularly emotionally. These are the same students who “earned” their way into Lowell, and yet seem “unprepared.” The question is, “unprepared” for what? We question whether this is really the Lowell that should be preserved and protected.

We understand these are extraordinary times, and that the District and the Board are under immense pressure to address a multitude of challenges. We also recognize that families and students are anxious about the impact the pandemic will have on their education. Nonetheless, in this moment, we trust that the District and Board are acting in good faith and in the best interest of the students and the community.

We also urge the Board to conduct a thorough evaluation of the culture at Lowell High School. Over the last several years, students have documented incidents of racism on campus, and most recently, students and alumni have spoken out about a climate of sexual violence that is associated with Lowell. These incidents are symptoms of something that should be uncovered
about the manner in which Lowell operates. Students have recently organized mental health awareness-themed events in order to provide their peers with the resources that they need in order to cope with the high-stress environment in which Lowell exists. This culture is often cited by many prospective students as reasons not to choose Lowell.

In conclusion, most alumni recognize that Lowell, in its current iteration, is not the same as the school that we attended. For many of us, it is the same or worse than it was when we attended. We are concerned for the well-being of current students, and we have supported their efforts to make positive change on campus. It is in this spirit that alumni and students have joined together to speak truth to power, and unmask the visage of Lowell High School.

mom of twins. education nerd. public school warrior. reformed cat-lady. amateur urbanist. social justice addict. BLERD. & most recently Board of Ed Commissioner