Princeton High School principal’s public school board hearing tentatively set for May 15

A school board hearing known as a “Donaldson Hearing” regarding the employment of Princeton High School Principal Frank Chmiel is tentatively scheduled for the evening of May 15 in the auditorium at Princeton Middle School.

Chmiel, who has worked in the district since July 2021 and does not have tenure in the district, was placed on paid leave in March. His contract for the next academic year is not slated for renewal by the Princeton Board of Education. An interim principal was appointed to replace Chmiel for the remainder of the school year. Chmiel has opted for a public hearing on the matter. The hearing is known as a Donaldson hearing.

The school district has offered May 15 as the tentative date for the hearing in the auditorium at Princeton Middle School. Public comment would begin at 6 p.m. and last for an hour before the proceedings begin. School Board President Dafna Kendal, reached Friday afternoon, said the district has not received a confirmation from Chmiel’s lawyers agreeing on the proposed time and location. But in a parent Facebook group, a supporter of Chmiel who has been active in the legal effort to get him reinstated, posted Thursday evening that a lawyer for Chmiel said the hearing would be on the evening of May 15. Planet Princeton has reached out to lawyer David Schroth for confirmation that Chmiel has agreed to May 15 for the hearing, but has not received a response as of publication time.

What is a Donaldson Hearing?

In New Jersey, untenured teachers and other nontenured teaching staff members have fewer rights than tenured employees.  In essence, they are “employees at will.”  But non-tenured employees do have substantial rights. 

Every nontenured teacher and administrator must receive a written offer of an employment contract for the following academic year, or notice that the contract will not be renewed, by May 15. Failure by the employer to provide this notice in a timely manner is deemed an offer of employment with a contract on the same terms as the prior year with required salary increases. The employee must accept the offer in writing by June 1.

A teacher or administrator who is not renewed or is terminated has the right to a written statement of the reasons for being let go.

In New Jersey, a staff member who is not renewed or is terminated is entitled to an appearance before the board of education, where the staff member can attempt to convince the board members to offer reemployment or not accept the recommendation for termination. The appearance, which is informal and not subject to the rules of evidence, is known as a Donaldson hearing.

Under the New Jersey Open Public Meetings Act, boards of education are supposed to discuss personnel issues in closed session. An employee is entitled to a notice of the closed session meeting and the issues to be discussed about the employee. This notice also applies in the case of Donaldson hearings, allowing the employee to hold the hearing in closed session or in public.

The Donaldson hearing is not an adversarial proceeding. The purpose of such an appearance
is to permit the employee to convince the members of the board to offer re-employment. In a situation where an employee was deemed nonrenewed because the superintendent had not recommended renewal, the board has the ability to overrule the superintendent’s recommendation after the Donaldson hearing.

A school board is not obligated to take a vote after the Donaldson hearing. If the board does not vote, and a superintendent of schools has made a recommendation not to renew the employee’s contract, the superintendent’s recommendation not to renew will stand.