Wilson High School Principal Michael Durso returned to school yesterday, receiving hearty slaps on the back and praise from students who supported his walkout to protest the presence of a student who had been accused of raping a classmate. But other students barely muttered a hello.

The split in the 1,600-member student body at the Northwest Washington school was apparent during a pair of afternoon assemblies where about half of the students loudly applauded Durso and the other half booed.

Rape carges against the youth were dropped Monday and the case was turned over to the D.C. corporation counsel's office for a determination of whether to charge him as a juvenile.

Durso returned to Wilson at 7:45 a.m. yesterday. D.C. School Superintendent Floretta D. McKenzie has said that she will discipline Durso for insubordination and breaking school rules, but gave no further details. Durso said last night that he had not heard from McKenzie.

At the assemblies, called by Durso to announce his return, he told the students that whether they agreed or disagreed with his actions, there was an important lesson to be learned from his protest.

"Sometime you may find yourself in a similar situation . . . . If you believe in something, then you need to be prepared to take whatever consequences may come up," Durso said.

Durso said that he had stayed away from the school since late last week because he was concerned about the students' safety. He asked them to help him defuse the controversy and to give support to the two students involved in the alleged rape, both of whom attended classes yesterday, he said.

He thanked the students "who supported my action" and "those who didn't support it . . . . I applaud you for making up your own mind."

Beverly Young, 15, a 10th grader, was among those who disapproved of Durso's actions.

"He shouldn't have taken the issue to an extreme," she said. "He jeopardized the school. We could've lost a principal and gotten a replacement who wasn't any good."

Senior Jack Brown, 17, said, "What he did caused rumors, rumors and more rumors. If he had protested quietly, nobody would have known who the students [connected with the alleged rape] were. Now everybody knows."

But Richard Lafontant, a 16-year-old junior, congratulated Durso. "What he did took honor and courage," he said.

In an interview, Durso said, "It's not logical to bring two young people [involved in a criminal case] back into a situation where they could possibly have contact with each other . . . . I'm still concerned."

He added that "In my opinion, [the protest] will have been worthwhile if the school board deals with the situation of young people charged with serious crimes. It's important for principals and school officials to have a little more leeway in handling these types of situations."

Durso suspended the student on April 14, the day he was arrested at the school. Durso also told the student he could not return to Wilson, but the student's mother appealed the order to a hearing examiner and won.

The school board voted last week to give the superintendent the power to transfer students when they have been charged with serious crimes.