Teachers union refuses to release letter related to conflict with former Princeton High School principal

Leaders of the Princeton Regional Education Association, the union for teachers at Princeton High School, have refused to release a letter they wrote last year related to former principal Frank Chmiel and have declined to comment on the letter.

Planet Princeton reached out to union leaders on Friday and again on Sunday asking for a copy of the letter and for comment.

Justin Mathews, Renee Szporn, and Jennifer Crowder, the co-presidents for the union, sent a one-sentence statement to Planet Princeton Sunday night.

“PREA does not weigh in on personnel matters between an administrator and the district,” reads the email.

The union for administrators has also remained silent on issues related to Chmiel.

At the Donaldson hearing for Chmiel last week, Superintendent of Schools Carol Kelley said false representations by Chmiel about his vaccination status resulted in a violation of the law and loss of trust.

Teachers claim that at an indoor meeting in August of 2021, Chmiel nodded when asked if he was vaccinated and took off his mask. In December Chmiel was allegedly exposed to COVID and had to quarantine. Teachers said the quarantine period was the period that was set for people who are not vaccinated, and that’s when they realized he was not vaccinated.

“Significant trust issues with your staff first came to my attention in early 2022. On January 3, 2022, the board received a letter from PREA on behalf of approximately 148 teachers at PHS accusing you of falsely representing that you were vaccinated, and failing to adhere to the governor’s masking order for schools. That letter prompted Ms. Gold to conduct the investigation, which included her interviewing several staff members who were extremely upset that you encouraged people to remove their masks around you while leading them to believe that you were vaccinated,” Kelley said Monday at the hearing.

“Whether you outright lied to them or imply that you were vaccinated matters a little. In the end, you failed to adhere to the masking requirements in violation of Executive Order 251, induced other staff members to violate it as well and led teachers to believe something that was not true, forcing them, including a pregnant person and a caregiver to an elderly parent, to take risks they weren’t prepared to take,” Kelley said. “Staff members reported filling coerced to accept these risks by a superior with whom they were not comfortable.”

Kelley said when she met with Chmiel and Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources Rebecca Gold about the matter, he admitted to making the statements that PREA attributed to him, and further admitted to misleading his staff, and acknowledged it in a virtual meeting with them.

“You explained to us that you were new to the school and wanted to share team-building activities to build a relationship with your staff, but felt you could not do that while people were masked. For whatever reason you were untruthful with your staff and failed to follow the law,” Kelley said. “This episode demonstrates a serious lack of judgment in addition to a failure to adhere to applicable law and policy. Instead of being a role model for your staff and students, you made many of them distrustful of you and demonstrated that you put your personal desires to connect with staff, in a way where you were willing to accept certain risks without letting staff know that they were at risk, ahead of staff safety. In doing so, you demonstrated poor leadership skills and engaged in conduct that did not conform with the professional standards for educational leaders.”

Chmiel said at the Donaldson hearing that he was not vaccinated because he was afraid of potential health risks given that his father died due to heart issues when he was relatively young. He claimed though that he never said at the August meeting with teachers that he was vaccinated, and said he sat more than six feet from staff members.

In a letter Chmiel wrote to his supporters on Thursday, he claims the letter to the superintendent from the union leadership went against what teachers wanted.