Posted on June 24, 2022

Lowell High School Admissions Will Return to Merit-Based System After S.F. School Board Vote

Jill Tucker, San Francisco Chronicle, June 23, 2022

After nearly two years of intense and bitter debate, test scores and grades will once again determine which San Francisco students are admitted to Lowell High School after the city’s school board decided to return to the merit-based admissions Wednesday.

In a split 4-3 vote, the school board decided to restore the previous merit process after two years of using a lottery-based system. The vote applies to freshman entering in the fall of 2023.

A decision, which will include an appointed task force, will address a long-term process in the coming months as the district appoints a task force to look at improving high schools while analyzing competitive admissions at Lowell and other sites.

The board majority rejected Superintendent Vince Matthews recommendation keeping the lottery process in place for another year, even though he cited significant challenges to bringing back merit-based admission before the enrollment season starts in the fall.


The decision could prompt yet another lawsuit, with opponents citing a state law that prohibits academic criteria in admission to comprehensive high schools.

Hundreds of residents spoke out in recent weeks about the admission process at Lowell, anger and emotions often overflowing in rallies, petitions and during board meetings.

Opponents of the merit system cited a predominance of Asian Americans at the school as well as racism and harassment of Black and brown students at Lowell, noting under the lottery, the school has seen an increase in diversity.

“The lottery system means Lowell is diverse,” said Virginia Marshall, president of the San Francisco Alliance of Black Educators and a representative of the NAACP. “It is not just for one ethnic group. It’s for all students choose to make Lowell their home.”

Supporters of the merit system argued the city’s students need options, including an academically rigorous environment that offers a private school education at a free public school and admission should be based on hard work and academic achievement.


The board’s decision was the latest inflection point in the nearly two-year saga featuring feuding public officials, a lawsuit and accusations of racism over which students are eligible to attend Lowell, long considered one of the highest-performing public high schools in the country.

The board first approved a switch to a lottery system in October 2020, citing a lack of academic data given the switch to distance learning earlier that year.

A board majority then made that decision permanent four months later, citing a lack of diversity and racism at the elite academic schools. {snip}