The District high school principal who was suspended last year for refusing to work after a student accused of rape was allowed to attend class has been elected by his peers as the city's top secondary school principal.

Michael Durso, principal of Woodrow Wilson High School, was honored last month by the members of the D.C. Association of Secondary School Principals, an organization of administrators from about 55 city schools. Durso is president of the organization, but selection is made by the membership.

The honor entitles Durso to a four-day retreat in Florida with educators from throughout the country, but also represents a show of support and respect from other school administrators.

Durso, who joined the D.C. school system as a teacher in 1965, said, "I was a bit surprised, but it's a nice honor. It might be a show of support, but {the incident last year} was an isolated incident and I don't think it carried enough weight or had enough meaning to sway any votes."

D.C. Superintendent Floretta D. McKenzie suspended Durso for four days last year for refusing to report to work after he was overruled on dismissing a student charged with raping a classmate. McKenzie called his actions "insubordinate" and damaging to the students, school and school system, Durso's attorney said at the time.

Durso suspended the youth shortly after the student was arrested. A hearing examiner overruled the principal and ordered that the student be allowed to return to school. Durso, unhappy with that decision, refused to work for three days.

Rape charges against the youth were dropped and the student has since filed a suit against the principal and the District government, asking $3 million in damages.

Durso has maintained that he stayed away from school because he was concerned about the students' safety. Also, he said at the time, "It's important for principals and school officials to have a little more leeway in handling these types of situations."

McKenzie, who was out of town yesterday, could not be reached for comment. A spokesman for her office said, "There is no comment since the selection was made by his peers and reflected their views."

Leonard Upson, principal of Roosevelt High School and a member of the principals' association, said Durso is well thought of as an administrator. "He has a long list of programs that he implemented that the school officials are pleased with . . . . "

At Wilson, a 1,600-student school on Nebraska Avenue and Chesapeake Street NW, Durso has long been known has a no-nonsense educator who at times has had conflicts with administrators over school policies. He has been suspended once and reprimanded twice in recent years in connection with decisions he made as principal at Wilson.