Black Lowell Students, Alumni and Community Leaders Demand a Change
This is a historic moment in San Francisco, inspired by so many who have worked tirelessly to achieve racial justice in San Francisco schools.
On Tuesday, February 2nd, President Gabriela Lopez, Commissioner Matt Alexander and I presented a resolution for First Reading to respond to Black Student Union (BSU) leaders’ call to action after staff failed to respond appropriately to ongoing racism at Lowell High School. (SF’s “elite” public high school).
For decades, students have reported ongoing racist abuse and discrimination, which recently came to a head when students were subjected to viewing Black and Jewish hate speech and graphic pornography during an antiracist lesson on the very day Vice President Kamala Harris was inaugurated as the first Black woman Vice President of the United States.
When school administrators failed to reach out directly to BSU leaders and began minimizing the incident as “hacking”, students launched an email campaign to request help from city leaders. (Be advised, the linked Google Doc contains disturbing images.)
You can read more about this incident in this SF Examiner article.
In response to student and community demands after a community meeting convened by the SF NAACP which led to two administrators abruptly leaving the meeting, my colleagues and I reached out. Based on their input we worked with Student Delegates to the Board, Shavonne Hines Foster and Kathya Correa Almanza, the San Francisco branch of the NAACP (SFNAACP) and other antiracist educators to draft the Response to Ongoing Pervasive Systemic Racism at Lowell High School Resolution.
This resolution directs the district to work with the SF NAACP and the Lowell Black Student Union (BSU), with support from the Office of Racial Equity, a division of the San Francisco Human Rights Commission (SFHRC), and the Education and Civil Rights Initiative (CRI), to set up a mechanism for community accountability that lies outside the district. It establishes a Community Coalition which will design and direct an Equity Audit of Lowell High School which will be published and presented back to the Board later this spring. This report will include recommendations for immediate actions to support healing for Lowell students and further recommendations for the district at large.
The Community Coalition will include leadership from the Lowell BSU, SFUSD Student Advisory Council (SAC), SF NAACP, SF Alliance of Black School Educators (SFABSE), the SFUSD African American Parent Advisory Council (AAPAC), Office of Racial Equity, and other alumni, educator, family, and community leaders.
The resolution also includes language to permanently remove Lowell’s selective admissions policy based on academic measures. As Superintendent Dr. Vincent Mathews mentioned in a recent meeting, changes to the admissions policy alone won’t entirely fix the problems with racist abuse and discrimination at the school. Nonetheless, it is clearly a key contributor. Folks have been trying to do everything but, and as Student Delegate Hines Foster stated repeatedly in recent Board meetings, these efforts have consistently failed.
Anyone who says changes to admissions policies are “rushed”, clearly has not been paying attention to Lowell’s history over the years.
In 2018, the SFUSD school board directed the district to change Lowell’s enrollment policy and allow increased enrollment from a predominantly black middle school, Willie Brown. This occurred when enrollment fell to just one Black young man in the freshman class. (Lowell has an overall population of roughly 3,000 students and is the largest high schools in the district)
This was especially concerning because it occurred two years after student BSU leaders demanded the school hire staff to increase Black student enrollment after a student walkout due to another racist incident in 2016. (Listen to more student experiences in this PBS report with Gwen Ifill.)
Student demands also included improvements to Black teacher recruitment, which appear to have decreased over the past five years. They also included mandatory Ethnic Studies classes for all students. Today, Lowell offers only one section of the class for its roughly 3,000 students. Students also demanded antiracist professional development for staff and students. Many involved report that this work was met with resistance from staff. This work was disbanded unexpectedly this past summer with no plans for a replacement.
Because the school and district have failed to implement these demands, we believe an independent Equity Audit and public report are the next step in ensuring transparency and accountability.
Folks who argue that changes to admissions policies are unfair are also uninformed of the relationship between test-based admissions policies and racist discrimination educators have been discussing for decades. In fact, the resolution cites testimony Ibram X. Kendi prepared in support of the Boston School Committees’ decision to eliminate standardized test scores from admissions to Boston’s selective enrollment “exam schools.”
This resolution will be returning to the Board for a final vote on Tuesday, February 9th. Go to the district website for information about how to view or provide public comment at this meeting.
Update: The Response to Ongoing Pervasive Systemic Racism at Lowell High School Resolution passed on February 9th 2021!
Read/Listen to this KQED report: Lowell’s Black Students and Alumni Push Elite SF School to Confront History of Racism