Former high school principal attacks administrators, teachers union leadership, and school board in letter to parent group claiming supporters were silenced (updated)
Frank Chmiel, the former principal of Princeton High School, posted a letter in a group for parents on Thursday afternoon alleging that so few teachers voiced support for him because the administration pressured people, the teacher’s union leadership told teachers not to support him, and administrators at the high school tried to dissuade students from protesting his removal. He then suggests in the letter that someone should file ethics charges against the school board and claims the board members were derelict in their duty for not reconsidering renewing his contract after a Monday hearing on the subject.
Chmiel also wonders in the letter how he will be able to get another job in New Jersey because of all of the publicity surrounding his nonrenewal. Chmiel asked for a Donaldson hearing, an informal hearing that school employees without tenure in New Jersey are entitled to when their contracts are not renewed, to share his side of the story. The hearing can be held in private or in public. Chmiel chose to have the hearing in public.
The lawyer for the school board, Vittorio LaPira, issued a statement in response to media inquiries about the Chmiel letter on Thursday evening.
“The Board strongly denies any wrongdoing by any of its employees, including, but not limited to allegations of reprisals against students or employees who spoke at Mr. Chmiel’s informal appearance, as well as any allegations of criminal, fraudulent, or tortious actions,” LaPira wrote. “The Board recognizes that everyone has a First Amendment right to express themselves without fear of reprisal. The Board does not and will not tolerate any actions by its employees to the contrary.”
LaPira said the school board provided Chmiel with the opportunity to convince the board to offer him reemployment at the Donaldson hearing that was held Monday.
“After listening to Mr. Chmiel’s appearance, the Board did not offer him reemployment following a roll call vote of the full Board. The Board fulfilled its legal obligations by providing Mr. Chmiel with written notice of its final determination within three working days,” LaPira wrote. “The law does not contemplate that a Board of Education deliberate for up to three days and have a second meeting to vote on the matter as some have suggested.”
Princeton High School science teacher Mark Eastburn reached out to Planet Princeton Friday morning to say he was made aware of the letter Chmiel sent to parents and that it contains false statements about him. “I never told Frank that I was warned by administration or PREA representative Bob Corell to keep quiet,” Eastburn said. “While I did speak with Frank on three occasions after his removal from PHS, everything that I said was in strict confidence.”
The full text of Chmiel’s letter (grammar and spellings of names his):
I am extremely grateful for all your support. As you saw on Monday night, I can write volumes. My original document was up to 51 pages. I had so much information to share than time would allow.
So much could be written about every single aspect of my gratitude for all the different ways you and others in the community have supported me. You are absolutely amazing, and I am proud to be a Princeton Public Schools parent with you.
I want to get to the point and share some thoughts:
Bill Urien was approached by Dr. Kathie Foster first thing in the morning, May 16, 2023, the day after the hearing. The way it seems, Dr. Foster reprimanded him for speaking at the hearing, and that her actions were at Dr. Kelley’s direction. So, Dr. Kelley ordered the correction of Bill Urien, a Princeton resident of many years, for speaking up for me. At 12 pm, assistant principal, Rashone Johnson, called Bill into his office to correct him for speaking out. So, too, PHS administrative figures, one who said that she did this at the direction of Dr. Kelley corrected a citizen for speaking publicly.
This is proof of information we were getting about faculty and staff being silenced. Bill and Matt Wilkinson were the only ones with the courage to speak up for me. In the beginning of this all, Mark Eastburn, a legendary and beloved PHS science teacher who was very vocal, who helped PHS win the $110,000 Samsung Solve for Tomorrow contest last year, was talked to by an administrator and his PREA union rep, Dr. Bob Correll, said things that silenced him, putting him in fear for his employment. Students have told me that many teachers have been made to be afraid to speak out. We see that their fears are justified in how Dr. Kelley, interim PHS principal, Dr. Foster, and Mr. Johnson reprimanded Bill Urien, our neighbor. Bill gave me permission to share this story and I am copying him on this email.
By the way, Bill has given permission for this information to be shared in the media.
From the outset of my administrative leave and the first petition started by students, assistant principals, Cecilia Birge and Rashone Johnson, and director of school counseling, Dana Karas, began calling students at their homes and on the weekend no less! They did this to Ashley Chen, and they did this to Ida Sidik. There may be a few more.
These administrators were searching for information to share with Valley Road about the students’ plans regarding protests and doing whatever they could dissuading them from doing anything big. Both Ms. Birge and Mr. Johnson had just become co-principals of PHS, and they were attempting to gather information on nothing to do with the students grades or attendance, which might be justifiable reasons to call their homes.
Another thing, the board was prepared to vote that evening. They had their minds made up. They did not do their due diligence in investigating the evidence-based allegations against the superintendent made on Monday night. That would have been the responsible and civic-minded thing to do. They had three days to give their decision. It was shameful.
I think that someone should file a complaint with the NJ School Boards Association. The board members were derelict of their duty in that they were informed about reasonable allegations of illegal activity, and they failed to investigate that before rendering their decision. This meant that they supported the superintendent’s recommendation despite the false pretexts upon which she was basing this.
The four PREA leaders in the room, Renee Szporn, Jen Bigioni, Dr. Correll, and Dr. Andrea Dinan, were the ones who sent the letter on January 3, 2023. From what I have been told, as PPS refused to show me the letter, which should have been put into my personnel file if it accused me of heinous disregard of COVID precautions, that would be concealment of information.
Also, those four PREA leaders convinced their membership to accept not showing them the letter. From what I have been told, the four PREA leaders were arguing to the PHS PREA membership how they were really protecting me and PHS from scandal. They said they were afraid that the letter would be leaked to the media causing embarrassment to me and the high school.
The reality, from what I have been told, is that letter went against what the PREA membership wanted, who wanted me kept around. The PREA leaders were the ones described as attempting to bulldoze their membership into a vote of no confidence. As you heard from Matt Wilkson, PHS teacher, PHS alum, and long-time Princeton resident, that did not happen.
When the PREA leaders didn’t get their way at the faculty meeting after I apologized to the faculty and staff about the vaccine and masking situation and they continued the meeting, the PREA leaders followed up by sending the January 3rd email, saying that they were speaking on behalf of 148 faculty members. They said they were speaking on behalf of 148 PREA members. This was not true. The PREA members in not doing a vote of no confidence were giving their support of me remaining as the PHS principal even though some of them were disappointed about my disclosure. They saw my worth.
Someone should do an OPRA request January 1 – January 7, 2023 of Dr. Kelley’s email and the board members’ emails to find that letter and see what it actually says. Until now, the PREA PHS membership has been either blindly and/or fearfully following what the PREA PHS leaders have been saying, which is that PREA should stay out of it and leading the staff in having suspicions about my dismissal. This is why PREA did not come out in support of me.
I have not given up the fight. My attorneys and I are working. The superintendent was dishonest throughout the Statement and in other official legal documents. Her actions are illegal and criminal according to statute. We have not given up our fight.
Unfortunately, starting July 1st, I will no longer have income or medical benefits. I have to start thinking about my finances and need a job. The fact that all of this has gone public, including the superintendent’s dishonest narrative being published in the papers including NJ.com, it may be very difficult to ever again find employment in NJ public schools. I will be 47 in July and ineligible for retirement with my full pension until I am 55. I want to hope for the best, and I have faith, but this has all potentially damaged an otherwise stellar career.
On a positive note, I passed my superintendent’s test with a 188 out of a possible 200. So, much for not knowing how to manage a high school. According to that, I could be eligible to run a district. At the end of this June, I will be eligible to apply for my superintendent certificate with the state of NJ, because I will have served a total of five years as a principal and earned a passing score (the requirement for NJ is 162). This will require Franklin and PPS HR to send proof that I served for three years in one district and two years in the other. I think Franklin will be supportive, but I anticipate PPS doing everything in its power to slow the process just as it has hurt me already. For crying out loud, the district would not give Dave Schroth my W2 until I was within a week of tax day despite my repeated requests to the business office.
Even with that certificate, it may be difficult to find a superintendent’s job given all the publicity surrounding me.
Once again, thank you for everything you have done and are doing. I am a warrior. That’s why I fit in Franklin so well. At FHS, we were the Warriors. Then, again, I am a tiger, a PU Tiger and a PHS Tiger. So, let’s keep up the good work for our communities, Princeton and Cranbury.