There's a time to deal with tardiness, and Wilson High School principal Michael Durso insists that it's 9 a.m. sharp. Obviously he's a member of an old school that still believes in a get- thee-to-the-class-on-time rule. But for much too long now, some 300 of his 1,600 students either haven't been operating on Eastern Standard Time or have preferred Double Standard Time. So on Monday morning, when the big hand was on the 12 and the little one on the 9, Mr. Durso cracked down: the 300 tardy students of the day were not allowed into the school at Nebraska Avenue and Chesapeake Street NW until they had heard a stiff lecture on the value of punctuality.

It's about time. But hold everything, because after this the lesson got somewhat lost in bureaucratic countermanding and fuzzy objections from the Wilson student government and some parents. Tuesday, about 75 students missed the bell, but not their principal, who was right there to send them home. And on the next morning, about 70 students arrived late and were taken to the cafeteria, scolded and then sent to class.

Student leaders, noting that many students have "reasonable excuses" for being late, protested. Then some parents got all agitated and called the school superintendent's office. That brought out Deputy Superintendent Andrew Jenkins, who intervened to ask Mr. Durso to stop sending tardy students home. Instead, the talk from high command was about how to "develop alternatives," such as talking to parents and giving students special one- on-one counseling sessions.

Forget it. When's the last time any school in the city could individually counsel 300 students a day about anything? As for "alternatives," maybe authorities should delay the start of school, starting at, say, noon. Or maybe they should just let the students opt for "flextime." Teachers, too, may want a piece of this late action. If it catches on, Mr. Durso himself may find there's no reason for him to show up on time, either, because there won't be anything to do.

Of course there are excuses for lateness. But walking, driving and taking public transportation -- even if relying on any of these requires getting up and out earlier -- are ways of life in the grown-up world. Is getting to school on time too much to ask of today's high school students?