Michael Durso, the principal of Wilson High School, has announced that he will not report to work because a school system hearing officer has allowed a 16-year-old student recently charged with raping a classmate to return to the school in Northwest Washington.
Durso told Wilson teachers in a written statement this week that he was staying away from the school to protest what he views as weak school policies in dealing with students accused of breaking the law, and would not return as long as the accused rapist was allowed to remain at the school.
He said he could not "in good conscience" allow the youth to remain at Wilson.
"My stand is that the alleged rapist was charged and he should be barred until the case is settled," said Durso, who was overruled by a hearing examiner Monday after he tried to expel the student. "The concern here is that we are putting a young man arrested for a relatively serious crime back into the same setting with the alleged victim and we're hoping that it won't happen again, and it makes no sense."
D.C. school board members, reacting to Durso's protest and another case involving seven students accused of selling drugs at two other high schools, voted 9 to 1 yesterday to give Superintendent Floretta D. McKenzie authority to transfer a student accused of a crime without first holding a hearing.McKenzie told reporters she hadn't decided yet whether to send the Wilson youth to another school, but later said through a spokeswoman that she would use the new authority to transfer six students who were arrested last month for selling the drug PCP at McKinley High School, Second and T streets NE.
Four of the McKinley students are 18 or older and probably will be enrolled in adult education classes, according to Janis Cromer, the spokeswoman. The two who are under 18 probably will be sent to the Spingarn STAY program, which conducts its classes after regular school hours, she said.
One other student was arrested at Cardozo High School, 13th and Clifton streets NW, and charged with selling PCP. A hearing examiner has ruled that he should be allowed to return to the school, according to Cardozo Principal James Williams.
Cromer said McKenzie has not decided whether that youth should be transferred under the new rules.
Under D.C. school board policy, adopted in the early 1970s, no student can be expelled from public schools and no suspension can last more than 10 days. Several months ago, McKenzie asked that expulsions be allowed for students who school officials determine have sold drugs or carried dangerous weapons, but that change is awaiting board action.
Cromer said McKenzie plans to meet with her legal staff on Monday to discuss whether the new authority granted by the school board can be applied to the Wilson case, when a hearing examiner already has ruled that it would be improper to transfer the student accused of rape.
A hearing examiner has yet to rule on the transfers of the McKinley students previously ordered.
On Thursday, a hearing examiner said the students had been properly suspended but that they would have to be allowed to return to the school on Monday, when their 10-day suspension period expires. The examiner, who Cromer declined to identify, said the students would remain at McKinley until the examiner he holds a hearing later on transferring them.
Many of the 1,600 students who attend Wilson, near Nebraska Avenue and Chesapeake Street NW, staged a demonstration yesterday after lunch break to express support for Durso.
D.C. police told school officials the 16-year-old Wilson student was arrested on April 14 at the school and charged with rape while armed. The incident did not occur on school grounds, according to school officials. At an arraignment at D.C. Superior Court, the student was released in the custody of his mother, pending a preliminary hearing scheduled for next week, school officials said.
On the day the student was arrested, Durso said he told him that he could not return to Wilson and would have to be transferred to another school. The student's mother appealed Durso's order.
Durso said, "I am disappointed. I think the system and the community at large needs to understand that we as school principals and as educators cannot have the kinds of schools people would like to have for Washington, D.C., if some people who face serious charges are allowed to stay in classes."
In a letter to Wilson faculty, Durso stated that because the alleged rapist was allowed to return to school, "I have asked to be reassigned. I am also requesting leave until this reassignment takes place."
Durso said he was on personal leave yesterday and Thursday that he previously had requested to move to a new home. Durso said he would not return to Wilson unless the student is sent elsewhere.
McKinley Principal Bettye Topps said she wanted the youths charged with selling PCP to be removed from her school. On Thursday night, she said, two of them appeared at a school talent show where they became involved in a fight and were removed by police.
The new rule allows McKenzie to transfer students charged with a criminal offense when she believes that "the peace, health, safety, and welfare of students and staff . . . may be disturbed" if the students return to their old schools. R. Calvin Lockridge, the only board member who opposed the new rule, said the board was acting hastily.
Under the new rule in arrest cases, a hearing examiner can reverse a transfer after it is carried out but not block it beforehand.
In the Wilson case, Cromer said a hearing examiner ruled that the transfer was improper because the youth had not been formally accused of violating any specific disciplinary rule and that Durso had not followed proper procedures to first suspend him. She added that the examiner noted that the youth had been arrested but not yet convicted and therefore is "presumed to be innocent until found guilty."
Cromer said the examiners, usually lawyers, are hired for particular cases and are not regular school system employes. She said their rulings cannot be overturned by the superintendent or the school board.