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Western New York Maritime Charter School is right to maintain its high standards

The complaint about Western New York Maritime Charter School seems to be that it expects its students to meet high standards. Certainly, some students aren’t going to survive its rigid demands and some parents are going to be frustrated, but it is all to the good that Buffalo has such a school for students who are willing to measure up.

Maritime is a military-themed charter school. The students wear military-style uniforms and are expected to abide by strict rules governing their appearance, conduct, punctuality and academic performance. They know this before they enter, and they also know that too many violations can result in suspension or expulsion. Some students leave voluntarily because, fundamentally, this isn’t the school for them.

There is a lot of attrition, as a News story observed on Monday – the highest by far of any of Buffalo’s 15 charter schools. Some see that as evidence of unfairness and of the advantages that charter schools may have over traditional public schools. The first complaint is wrong and while the second is valid, it is also beside the point.

Charter schools exist to offer a different experience to students and, frankly, to create competition for traditional schools, which otherwise operate as monopolies on education – and sometimes stultified monopolies. Some public schools, such as City Honors School or Buffalo Academy of Visual and Performing Arts, have admission criteria that also can give them an academic advantage over traditional schools. And as Maritime’s commandant, Lt. Col. Lawrence Astyk, observes, there is no reason a school such as his shouldn’t have retention criteria as well. The school was made for students who are willing and able to meet its standards; for the long-term success of the school and its students, it is important to maintain those standards.

There is no doubt that this has led to losses and hard feelings. A single mother saw both her daughter and son expelled from the school. Both did well academically, she said, but were repeatedly cited for infractions of the rules.

Another parent said a Maritime basketball coach recruited her son from Tapestry Charter School, but that he also was expelled after being cited for infractions.

The parents aren’t happy, but Astyk said all students know the rules and that those rules are enforced consistently, and that no student is expelled without first being warned of the possibility. Some don’t make it.

Assuming consistency and fairness be the case, complaints about the school’s requirements are without merit. There would be no point in creating a school meant to perform a specific function, then undermining its mission by disregarding the rules that help to define it.

With a limited number of slots available, the school also cannot accept all students who would like to attend and who would comply with its rigorous demands. To retain students who will not comply would be a rank unfairness to those others who would.

As long as it is possible to meet the school’s high standards – and with the school’s 85 percent graduation rate, it plainly is possible – and as long as the school is providing a solid education and academic help for those who struggle – it does – then there seems little for the public to protest.

Indeed, the public’s wish should be for the school to do well and for students to summon the perseverance and dedication to make the most of a golden opportunity.