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Following Recall, San Francisco School Board Reverses Course

Following Recall, San Francisco School Board Reverses Course

San Francisco voters in February ousted 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 S.F. 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.

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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…

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