Minority Lowell high school students walk out in protest

A group of black and other minority students who walked out of San Francisco’s Lowell High School Tuesday morning in response to a racist incident were greeted at City Hall today with a show of support from city and school district officials.

The Black Student Union walkout was organized in response to a poster found hanging on the school library door on Feb. 5 that said “Happy Black History Month #Gang” and included images of black entertainers.

The poster’s allusion to gangs and disparagement of black history was just an example of the types of racist comments and uncomfortable climate many black students experience at Lowell, an academically competitive high school located in the Lakeshore neighborhood in the southwestern end of the city, the students said.

A number of students said they had experienced incidents of being called “ghetto” or dirty, of having other students refuse to believe they could be taking Advanced Placement classes, and of being told by adults that they needed to change the way they looked to fit in. Several students said they did not feel like they belonged at Lowell. One student said:

“We go to the same school, we passed the same test, so what makes us different? We are just as smart as everyone at the school, we worked just as hard to get there.”

After walking out of school at 9 a.m. Tueday, the group of several dozen students traveled to San Francisco City Hall, where they were greeted by a representative from the mayor’s office and by Supervisors Norman Yee and Malia Cohen, as well as by the Rev. Amos Brown, president of the local branch of the NAACP.

Cohen, a Lowell graduate, expressed support for the students and urged them to “stay together, stay united and stay strong.”

San Francisco Unified School District board president Matt Haney also attended today’s rally at City Hall and said the students were raising “important issues.”

Haney noted that the district passed a policy last year to support black student achievement, but needed to move faster. Haney said:

“This is much bigger than just one incident, It’s a systemic issue with how we serve African-American students in San Francisco.”

Haney said he hoped to see school officials step up and work more closely with the Black Student Union.

Principal Andrew Ishibashi sent a letter out to families earlier this month in response to the library poster. He said that school officials had spoken to the student responsible and “while the intent was not malicious, the student who put up the message has been made aware it was insensitive. The student is deeply remorseful.”

Ishibashi said in the letter that the school would be using restorative practices to address the incident and increased cultural sensitivity training for staff and students.