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Lowell High School in SF May Switch From Merit Selection System to Lottery in 2021

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX) -- San Francisco's Lowell High School is one of few public schools in the country where admission is merit based, similar to how universities select students, but that could soon change. The San Francisco Unified School District's commission will soon vote on whether or not to change the selection process to a lottery.

Commissioners blamed the pandemic, saying they can't rank the student applicants because the district did not give out grades for the spring semester -- the students received either pass or no pass, no grade point averages were issued.

In addition, they said they can't administer state-standardized tests to the students since all classes are conducted online.

"It is disappointing that we don't have a better solution and this is just the option for now," said San Francisco parent Annika Ehrlich.

Ehrlich has two boys in the district. Her eighth grader has been studying hard and is applying to attend Lowell, one of the best and most competitive high schools in the country.

"He might be one of these kids that would've had a good chance of getting into Lowell and now it might be more equal to everybody else," Ehrlich said.

The school reported about 900 students were admitted to this year's freshman class out of 2,000 applicants. About 650 students chose to enroll in the school.

The district said the proposed random lottery admission system would be limited to the 2021-2022 school year but some parents worried the board will later make it permanent to increase diversity. Right now, less than 2 percent of the students at Lowell are Black.

"I wish I had a larger campus. I would really love to have all the students," said Lowell principal Dacotah Swett.

Principal Swett said they have about 2,800 students this school year. She reminded parents her teachers and administrators don't have a say in the admission option, it's up to the commissioners to vote on the option. She believed the students who apply to Lowell are mostly hard workers and would do well no matter what the admission process looks like for next year.

"We will have a good, solid freshman class and we're ready to teach anyone who is assigned to our school so, in terms of change, there's always change. It might be an exciting change. We have to really adapt," Swett said.

Some district students and alumni believed the lottery system could jeopardize the school's success and reputation.

"It's more of a Band-Aid more so than, like, a solution," said Michael Li, who graduated from Lincoln High School. "I mean we can test the lottery and the following semesters depend on how the (the pandemic) is."

As for Ehrlich, this change could push her out of the district.

"It's another log on the fire to, you know, maybe have us entertain the idea of either private schools or leaving the city," she said.

The district will hold a public meeting to discuss the proposal on October 13. The district commissioners will vote on the lottery proposal on October 20.

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