Wilson High School Principal Michael Durso, who has stayed away from school to protest the presence of a youth accused of raping a classmate, said yesterday after felony charges against the student were dropped that he will return to his duties today.
D.C. School Superintendent Floretta D. McKenzie said through a spokeswoman that Durso, who had disobeyed her direct order to return to school yesterday, will be disciplined for insubordination and breaking of school rules but gave no further details.
An assistant U.S. attorney dropped the charges against the youth during a preliminary hearing at D.C. Superior Court, but added that the case was being referred to the D.C. corporation counsel's office with a recommendation that the 16-year-old student be charged as a juvenile in connection with the alleged rape.
Spokesmen for the U.S. attorney's office said prosecutors recommended the case to juvenile court because the student had no prior criminal record and that it would be "more appropriate" to handle the case as a "juvenile matter."
A spokesman for the corporation counsel's office refused to comment on the case, but said its attorneys would decide within two weeks whether to file new charges against the youth. "The process, essentially, starts all over at this point," he said.
Durso's expected return to Wilson today is a key development in the controversy that started last week when he sent a note to Wilson teachers announcing that he could not "in good conscience" allow the student charged with rape to return to the school.
According to a D.C. police affidavit filed in the case, a 14-year-old Wilson student reported to police on March 21 that on two separate occasions about a month earlier the youth forced her to leave the school and drove her to a Southwest apartment where he forced her to perform various sex acts. The affidavit states there was an eyewitness in the case.
In an interview, the youth, who was arrested on April 14 at the school, said he was "glad" the charges had been dropped.
"I expected this to happen because I am innocent. My name has been damaged because everybody in the school and lots of people across the city have circulated my name around" in connection with the case, he said. "This has been the worst experience of my life," the youth said.
In a separate interview, the mother of the alleged victim said that she and her daughter's attorney will seek to file new charges against the youth. She said she is undecided whether her daughter will continue to attend Wilson or seek a transfer.
Durso had suspended the student on the day he was arrested, and told him he would have to transfer to another school. But the student's mother appealed Durso's decision and a school system hearing examiner overruled Durso.
Durso took a long-planned personal leave last Thursday and Friday but said he would not return to the school as scheduled yesterday to protest what he described as weak school policies that prevent principals from transferring, suspending or expelling students accused of breaking a law. Late Friday he received a letter from McKenzie directing him to return to Wilson yesterday morning.
Durso was at Superior Court yesterday because he had been called to testify in the student's case, and it was there that he learned that the charges had been dropped.
School board President R. David Hall said at a news conference yesterday afternoon that Durso "had contacted the school board today and indicated that he will be back on the job tomorrow at 9 a.m."
Hall described Durso's protest as a mistake in judgment. "If a school officer has a problem with the rules, there are several avenues within the system that can be explored. There's an opportunity to discuss problems and that was not done."
Durso had said that he would return to school if charges were dropped against the student. Standing in a court hallway, he said, "At this point, nothing would surprise me. If he's charged, he's charged. If he isn't charged, then he isn't charged, so I would have no problem with returning to school."
He said he has no regrets about his actions.
Janis Cromer, spokeswoman for McKenzie, said the superintendent has decided to take "disciplinary action against Durso, but the nature and extent of that action has not been decided. It is school system policy not to reveal the extent or nature of personnel actions."
But, she said, according to school board rules McKenzie has the options of "suspending him without pay, demoting, reassigning and firing him."
Last night, meanwhile, about a hundred members of the Wilson PTA voted at an emergency meeting last night to send letters to the school board and the superintendent stating their support for Durso and urging school officials not to take any "adverse actions" against him.
PTA copresident LeRoy Lowery, said "his actions reminded us of civil rights era protest. We accept his bending of the rules to achieve a point."
Durso's protest and the recent arrests of several students on drug charges at other D.C. high schools have highlighted what some officials describe as "weak" rules for punishing students who get into trouble.
School officials cannot expel students. A school board committee is studying a recommendation from McKenzie to modify that policy.
Last week, in an emergency meeting held shortly after Durso started his protest, the school board voted to amend existing rules and allow the superintendent to transfer immediately students arrested and charged with crimes, suspend them and arrange for tutoring at home.
Previously, the students could not be transferred until a hearing was held.