About 100 to 125 parents and students held a rally in front of Princeton High School on Monday afternoon to support embattled principal Frank Chmiel.
District officials informed parents in an email on Friday that two vice principals would be taking over leadership of the school effective that day. The email did not mention Chmiel by name. It is unclear what the circumstances are that led Chmiel to be removed from the top leadership position at the school. Under state statute, personnel issues are private unless the employee in question agrees to have the issue discussed at a public meeting. The employee is the one who makes the choice as to whether the discussion about the employee is held in private or in public.
There was a strong police presence at the rally to deal with traffic and other potential issues.
Cranbury parent Sasha Weinstein was the first speaker of the event, followed by Princeton parent David Kahn.
Weinstein said Chmiel’s previous high school community in Franklin was devastated to see him leave. “But the Princeton administration seems intent on pushing him out,” Weinstein said. “We demand better answers and not hiding behind the cloak of the law. If he did something that horrible and illegal then fine, we will all stop fighting for Chmiel. But the board of ed and Dr. Kelley must let us know what he did that was so horrific it warranted him being pushed out in March no less.”
Parent Peter Alexander Meyers shouted out that the district has to make parents and students part of the decision as well.
Kahn said he has spoken with Chmiel and nothing that is part of his performance review is an offense that warrants firing.
Chmiel could share the performance review document with the public himself if he chooses, but the district cannot share it because of state regulations governing personnel records.
“He is a wonderful, wonderful principal,” Kahn said. “There are a number of factors that go into this but what is most important from the school board’s perspective is the evaluation of Principal Frank Chmiel. You all know how well he has done.”
Students who spoke said Chmiel knows all of the names of the students gathered at the rally.
“He’s a good principal. Without Principal Chmiel I really don’t see a future with anything good at this school,” said one student.
Another student spoke about the email that was sent out Friday. She said the email was terrible because it didn’t mention him by name, thank him for his service at the school, or wish him luck in the future. “There was a disrespectfulness here we also have to talk about. This is one of the reasons so many people were angry about the decision,” one student said. “We need Mr. Chmiel back. After switching three principals in three years we need stability here.”
Another student said Chmiel has done his utmost for the school. “He pushed himself and he pushed all of us. He made sure he knows who each and every one of us are, what our ideas are. He makes us feel heard. He makes us feel valued. Why would anyone say no to that?”
An online petition signed by more than 2,300 people calls for the district to keep Chmiel. Some of the signatures are duplicates and triplicates and some signatures are from residents outside of Princeton and Cranbury.
Administrators in the district are unionized and are provided with union lawyers to represent them for free regarding employment issues. But a GoFundMe has been set up to pay for legal expenses for Chmiel.