Just after 6 p.m. Friday, March 24, lawyers for Princeton High School principal Frank Chmiel issued a statement saying Chmiel has not done anything illegal or wrongful towards students, faculty, or staff members.
It has been a week since the superintendent of schools in Princeton sent a statement to parents and the press saying two assistant principals would be serving as acting principals at Princeton High School until an interim principal is appointed for the remained of the year. The email did not mention Chmiel by name.
“In response to published reports that Princeton High School Principal Frank Chmiel has been recommended for non-renewal to his position by the superintendent of the Princeton Public Schools and placed him on administrative leave, it must be stated that Mr. Chmiel, my client, has not done anything illegal regarding the management of Princeton High School or anything wrongful toward students, faculty, or staff. We are aghast regarding any rumors impugning and defaming his character suggesting wrongdoing. He has hired litigation/education attorneys to fight to be renewed as the Principal of Princeton High School. There are no criminal allegations involved in this matter,” reads the statement from lawyers David Schroth and Ben Montenegro.
“Principal Chmiel was a highly effective administrator in his last district, where he was respected, beloved, and regarded as highly effective based on his evaluations. It is for this reason Princeton hired him. Princeton Public Schools thoroughly vetted my client’s references, having him supply well beyond the customary three references to include two community members from Franklin, two teachers from Franklin, two community members from Princeton, in addition to his superintendent, assistant superintendent, and the director for school management from Franklin and even a couple more references,” reads the statement. “In fact, social media in Franklin has been favorable to Principal Chmiel and hopeful that he would possibly return. In joining the Princeton educational family, Mr. Chmiel sought an opportunity to grow professionally and work in the community where he lives and his children attend and have attended the Princeton public schools including two who have graduated from Princeton High School.”
According to the statement, Chmiel has taken steps to fight to be renewed as the principal pursuant to state law. “We are awaiting the district’s written statement of reasons for his nonrenewal. State law provides the district’s elected board of education the legal right to renew Principal Chmiel (with or without the recommendation of the superintendent) after he is granted the right to address the board. That decision will be solely within the discretion, by a majority vote, of the board of education when we reach that stage, ” reads the statement.
“Principal Chmiel is humbled by the outpouring of support he has received from students, staff members, families, and community members, anyone upon whom he has had a positive impact. This is a testament to the wonderful work and accomplishments he has achieved in his time at Princeton High School.,” reads the statement, which alleges that some students were pulled aside to “cast doubt, discourage, and even instill fear regarding their right to speak and assemble in response to how the district has treated their principal.” The lawyers for Chmiel said such behavior would be legally actionable and “contrary to the core principles of empowerment espoused within the halls of Princeton High School.”
Vittorio LaPira, the lawyer for the Princeton Board of Education, responded to the statement from Chmiel’s lawyers on Sunday afternoon.
“Mr. Frank Chmiel’s attorneys released a statement on Friday regarding his current employment status. Because Mr. Chmiel has not waived his right to privacy, the board will continue to refrain from releasing information related to Mr. Chmiel’s personnel file,” reads the statement.
“The board also wants to emphasize that at no time has it, members, representatives, or administrators suggested that either students, staff, or community members cannot or should not exercise their First Amendment rights to express their opinions regarding Mr. Chmiel,” reads the statement. “Quite to the contrary, the board dedicated several hours at its last meeting to allow the community to speak about matters concerning the schools, including Mr. Chmiel, and even prioritized comments from students. While the board understands that community members will, at times, disagree about personnel decisions, it sincerely hopes that they continue to express their opinions in a respectful manner, without denigrating or interfering with the rights of others to express their own views.”
On Thursday at about 5 p.m., district officials posted “performance rubrics” for various positions in the district, including vice principals, on the Princeton Public Schools website at the request of parents.
In a Google Group for parents, one parent suggested on Friday that students should be silent in classes at the high school to protest Chmiel’s departure and mime their answers to questions. She also said students could make posters and buttons and do skits. “They could kindly wear blue PHS shirts like FC asked them to do on Fridays,” the parent wrote. Anoter parents has suggested that students should have a sit in by going to their classes to be marked present, and then going into the hallways instead durng class time.
Another parent has suggested that students shouldn’t shake hands with the superintendent at the high school graduation in June, and instead should turn around and face away from her.
Parents are also looking at ways to pressure school board members to keep Chmiel as principal, including threatening to recall them. “I would also implore people to not go after Michelle Tuck Ponder,” wrote one parent. “Her perspective should be heard. I’m glad she is on the board. It just should not be the only perspective. When people go after her also, they just look racist and sexist.”
Editor’s Note: This story was posted at about 8 p.m. on Friday and was updated at 1 p.m. Sunday to include the statement from the school board’s lawyer.