Elite San Francisco School Nixes Merit-Based Admission

Students and faculty at majority-minority Lowell High School claim current system is racist

Getty Images
February 10, 2021

The San Francisco Board of Education voted late Tuesday to abandon the merit-based admissions process at a prestigious public high school after students, faculty, and others claimed the system perpetuates white supremacy.

Lowell High School—a public school within the San Francisco Unified School District often ranked among the nation’s best high schoolswill now admit students through a lottery, rather than choosing students with the best grades and test scores.

The school board's resolution alleges that the admissions process at Lowell "perpetuates the culture of white supremacy and racial abuse towards black and Latinx students" and calls on the district to conduct an audit of racist incidents and create antiracist training programs for students.

While students of color currently make up more than 75 percent of the student body, Lowell is often critiqued for lacking diversity. More than half of students are Asian, less than 2 percent are black, and less than 12 percent are Latino.

Like many schools across the country, Lowell High School paused its merit-based admissions process last fall after the coronavirus pandemic interrupted admissions tests, much to the chagrin of Lowell parents and alumni. Families of high-achieving students in San Francisco view the selective, academically rigorous school as a more economical alternative to private schooling, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

Rather than dismantling the current enrollment system at Lowell, critics of the resolution—including students who spoke at the board meeting Tuesday night—suggest that the school district should do more to assist black and Latino students at the elementary and middle school levels.

"If the board wants to fight racism and truly believes that 'all SFUSD high schools are academic schools,' then simply put more resources into all the other high schools," Lowell High School alum Emil Guillermo wrote in the Chronicle. "Don't lower the bar at Lowell. Raise the bar at the neighborhood schools and make them all shine."

Lowell is the only high school in the San Francisco Unified School District that uses a merit-based admissions process. The school board's resolution claims California law prohibits public high schools from enrolling students based on grades.

The school's Black Student Union has for years spoken out against an allegedly exclusive and discriminatory culture at Lowell. Last week, members of the group protested against a racist incident that occurred during an online antiracist training session last month. Hackers, who some believe could have been students, posted racial slurs aimed at black and Jewish students, as well as pornographic images, on an online conversation board.

Neither the San Francisco Unified School District nor the school board responded to the Washington Free Beacon’s request for comment in time for publication.

Last week’s resolution came alongside the district’s decision to change the names of 44 San Francisco public schools named after historical figures now deemed problematic. Schools named after presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Abraham Lincoln will be renamed. Critics objected to the district’s reasons for renaming 3 of those 44 schools: Paul Revere Preparatory School, James Lick Middle School, and Lowell High School.

Lowell is the latest elite American high school to abandon merit-based admissions in favor of processes that can be used to achieve racial quotas. Last fall, the Fairfax County Public Schools Board in Virginia eliminated the entrance test for the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in an effort to boost black and Latino enrollment numbers.