Following Recall, San Francisco School Board Reverses Course

San Francisco voters in February had three school board members in a landslide election that proponents hoped would reshape the city’s education policy and politics.

Just four months later, the impacts of that vote are emerging in a big way.

The recall effort was driven in part by disagreement over how to handle admissions at Lowell High School, an elite public school that for decades accepted students primarily based on high test scores and grades. (Lowell’s long list of notable alumni includes Justice Stephen G. Breyer and former Gov. Pat Brown.)

In October 2020, the San Francisco school board voted to install a lottery-based admissions system in hopes of diversifying the student body and expanding access as social justice changes gained momentum in California. The board made that policy permanent in early 2021.

But the moves angered many city parents, particularly Asian Americans, who felt it unfairly limited their children’s long-sought entry into one of the nation’s top-performing schools.

The Lowell student body is predominantly Asian — roughly 48 percent, compared with 35 percent across SF Unified schools, according to district data — and for many immigrant families the school was seen as “a well-worn and cherished pathway to the middle class, to social mobility,” Lee told me.

The change in admissions policy felt like a particularly brutal blow after families endured some of the nation’s longest pandemic school closures through spring 2021. Separately, families were also concerned about anti-Asian hate crimes. The school board recall became an energizing force for Asian American voters, particularly Chinese Americans, who are by far the largest group, making up 23 percent of the city’s population.

“The Chinese community is celebrating today because it is really the first time in a long time where Chinese voters flexed their political muscle and saw an immediate result,” Lee told me. “It’s a wake-up call for the political establishment of San Francisco, that this is an emerging political force.”

But the vote on Wednesday was a disappointing outcome for those who supported the lottery approach.

They fear that the system leaves behind Black and Latino students who have lower test scores. They also cite racism and harassment of Black and brown students at Lowell. The introduction of the lottery system has reduced the number of Asian and white ninth graders by around one-quarter and increased Black and Latino ninth graders by more than 40 percent.

“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, according to The San Francisco Chronicle. “It is not just for one ethnic group. It’s for all students who choose to make Lowell their home.”

Formore:

Today’s tip comes from Christine O’Hagan, who lives in Mentone. Christine recommends her favorite beach in Southern California:

“Laguna Beach has everything! Beautiful beaches and sunsets, hotels, restaurants, art galleries and boutiques. A lovely walking path around and above the beach. In July and August they have the Laguna Art Festival, the Sawdust Art Festival and the Pageant of the Masters with free parking and vehicles to carry people all around Laguna Beach.”

Tell us about your favorite places to visit in California. Email your suggestions to [email protected] We’ll be sharing more in upcoming editions of the newsletter.


Summer is here. What’s your favorite part of the season in California?

Email us at [email protected] with your stories, memories or recommendations.


A celebration of purple blooms, the Ojai Lavender Festival returns this weekend after a two-year pandemic hiatus.

In Ojai’s Libbey Park on Saturday, you can sip on lavender-infused lemonade and purchase lavender-scented soaps. Or relax and enjoy a picnic while listening to some live music, according to the Conejo Valley Guide.

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