Angry that about 300 of his 1,600 students regularly showed up late for classes, Wilson High School Principal Michael Durso began detaining latecomers outside school for lectures this week and sending some students home.

On Monday, 300 tardy students were not allowed into the Northwest Washington school until they had heard Durso deliver a stiff lecture on the value of being on time.

On Tuesday, about 75 students arrived after the sounding of the 9 a.m. bell, but met Durso, who sent them home.

Yesterday, 70 more students arrived late. They were taken to the cafeteria and scolded, then sent to class, according to Durso, a 20-year veteran of the school system.

Durso said the actions are to illustrate his new rule: Come to school on time or get sent home.

While the number of late students at Wilson has decreased since Durso's policy took effect on Monday, absenteeism has risen sharply, said some teachers at the school, at Nebraska Avenue and Chesapeake Street NW. They suggested the policy may end up being counterproductive.

Student leaders also have criticized the policy, and some students said protests would be held if the crackdown continued. In addition, several parents called Superintendent Floretta McKenzie's office this week to complain, officials said, and a deputy superintendent asked Durso yesterday to stop sending tardy students home.

"I understand how critical the situation seemed to him, but students are to be in school," said Andrew Jenkins, the deputy superintendent. "We have decided and we have agreed that he will not send tardy students home and instead develop alternatives," such as talking to parents and giving students special one-on-one counseling sessions.

Durso said yesterday he was open to developing "new strategies" to attack tardiness, but warned that "I wouldn't rule out" the possibility of turning late students away again.

"We're hoping that sending them home won't be necessary," Durso said, "but we want to impress upon young people not so much that they need to come to school or get somewhere on time out of fear of something happening, but the fact that it's just good habit for life to, you know, be at places on time.

"We do have in our schools a tardiness problem and it is a serious problem that I felt I had to deal with in a serious nature. Tardiness has been a problem for a long time."

He said that Wilson, thought of as one of the city's best high schools, has an open enrollment policy and several hundred students commute each morning via public transportation. "But we have students who walk to school and still are late," he said. "The bottom line is that many of our young people are very casual about attendance habits for many various reasons.

"Recently, it appeared to me that the number of students trickling in late was increasing and I felt I had a responsibility to address that problem," he said.

While Durso decided to try out his new policy this week without regard to a student's particular excuse for being late, he said, "excessively late students have been sent home in the past."

The Wilson student government has voted to oppose the new policy, contending that many students have "reasonable excuses" for being late