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Judge rules board violated Brown Act in Lowell High admission change

A San Francisco Superior Court judge has ruled that the San Francisco Board of Education violated the state’s Brown Act for government transparency earlier this year as it sought to change Lowell High School’s merit-based admissions process to a lottery process.

In his ruling Thursday, Judge Ethan Schulman found the board violated the Brown Act, which requires local government bodies to conduct open and public meetings, by failing to post a meeting agenda on Feb. 9 with an adequate description of the resolution that sought to change the school’s admissions policy.

However, Schulman said his ruling is not directly ordering the school board and the San Francisco Unified School District to reinstate Lowell’s old admissions policy, but instead it’s declaring that the original resolution is “null and void.”

While the school’s old merit-based system appears to be back in effect, if the district and school board wish to still move forward with changing the admissions policy, they may do so by bringing the resolution back and holding a public hearing in compliance with the Brown Act, Schulman said.

He said in court:

“I’m setting aside this resolution after finding it to be null and void. … What the board does as a result is up to the board. And, as I’ve indicated in the order, it is not impossible, or at least it doesn’t appear to me to be impossible, for them to renotice this matter and have the properly noticed, properly agendized public meeting that might end up having them take the very same action again. But it’s not up to tell them what they should or shouldn’t do as a consequence of the court’s order.”

Back in February, the school board voted to change the school’s admission process from an academic-based one to a lottery system, which is the regular process used for all of the district’s high schools. Although for decades prior, the high school selected students based on grade point average, commissioners said the change was in response to ongoing racism that was being reported at the school.

The change, which went into effect for the current 2021-2022 school year, has been supported by Lowell’s Black Student Union, the SFUSD African American Parent Advisory Council and the SF Alliance of Black School Educators.

However, following the decision, the Lowell Alumni Association, Friends of Lowell Foundation and the Asian American Legal Foundation filed a lawsuit, alleging the move was rushed and violated the Brown Act. As part of the lawsuit, the plaintiffs sought an injunction to force the school board to reverse the decision.

In a statement, Lowell Alumni Association president Kate Lazarus said:

“We’re gratified by today’s ruling.”

Lazarus added: 

“The court recognized that the Board of Education used a flawed process to change the Lowell admissions policy. San Francisco students and families deserve public meetings that are transparent, inclusive, and equitable. The Lowell Alumni Association will continue to advocate for these principles every step of the way to ensure Lowell remains one of the best public high schools in the United States.”

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