Princeton Public Schools releases 2022 teachers union letter regarding principal

Princeton Public Schools officials have released a January 3, 2022 letter to Planet Princeton from the teachers union to school district leaders about principal Frank Chmiel. Planet Princeton requested the letter under the state’s Open Public Records Act. The request was denied under OPRA, but was released under New Jersey Common Law.

Previously, Planet Princeton had requested the letter from the union but the union declined to provide the letter, with union leaders saying in a one-sentence statement that the union does not weigh in on personnel matters between an administrator and the district.

References to the letter were made in the statement of reasons cited at a public hearing regarding the recommendation of the superintendent of schools not to renew Chmiel’s contract. Chmiel has worked for the district since July of 2021 and does not have tenure in the district.

In the letter, which was signed by eight union leaders whose names were redacted by district officials due to privacy concerns, teachers allege that Chmiel misrepresented his COVID vaccination status in 2021 and then went unmasked in the presence of staff and students. The union leaders said in the letter that Chmiel’s actions took away their ability to give informed consent about their own health decisions and caused staff members not to trust him.

“Trust would have been established if Mr. Chmiel had continually worn his mask and insisted others wear masks as is required, and the PHS community would have been safer,” reads the letter. “We are not writing about his vaccination status. We are writing because Mr. Chmiel made the choice to lie and endanger the PHS community.”

At the May 15 hearing about the decision not to renew Chmiel’s contract, Chmiel said he never told staff members he was vaccinated at an indoor August 2021 meeting where he took off his mask. Chmiel said he also sat more than six feet away from the staff. Teachers have claimed Chmiel nodded when people present were trying to determine whether they could take off their masks.

In the letter addressed to the superintendent, the assistant superintendent for human resources, and the school board, the union asked that Chmiel be placed on paid leave while human resources conducted an investigation.

It is unclear what action district officials took in response to the letter. In May 0f 2022, Chmiel’s contract was renewed for the 2022-23 school year, but he did not receive a salary increase and was placed on a performance improvement plan. In March of 2023, Chmiel was placed on paid leave. In April of 2023, Chmiel’s contract was not put up for a school board vote for renewal.

At the May 15 Donaldson hearing, the board voted 8-2 not to reconsider the decision regarding Chmiel’s contract. In a letter to a parent Google group in response to the decision not to renew the contract. Chmiel said the Jan. 3 union letter was not in his file and was being concealed from him. He said the four union leaders in the room at the time of the August mask incident were the ones who sent the Jan. 3 letter. He said the four union leaders convinced their members to accept not showing the full membership 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,” Chmiel wrote. “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. 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.”

Chmiel then suggested to the parent group that someone file a public records request for the letter to see what the letter actually says. He then claimed teachers have been blindly or fearfully following the union leadership, and that is why teachers did not come out and support him.

The full text of the January 3, 2022 letter:

To Dr. Kelley, Ms. Gold, and the Princeton Public Schools Board of Education,

We are writing to discuss Mr. Frank Chmiel’s violation of COVID safety protocols and his lack of ethical standards. Due to these severe character shortcomings, his ability to serve as an educational leader in our district is in question.

On December 13, 2021, it came to our attention that Mr. Chmiel was working from home and quarantining due to his wife’s COVID positive status. This appeared contradictory because under district policy, only unvaccinated people had to quarantine and Mr. Chmiel had told us during the summer that he was vaccinated.

On December 14, 2021, we realized that Mr. Chmiel had lied about his vaccination status, and he was symptomatic. This caused people to fear for their own health due to timing and recent unmasking in his presence. He continued to work from home, even as others were denied this accommodation. On December 15, 2021, Mr. Chmiel admitted that he lied via Zoom meeting with building administration and PHS PREA leadership. We then sought evidence of his often unmasked status and found numerous photos of him in close contact with students. On December 16, 2021, again via Zoom, he admitted to the entire PHS PREA membership that he had lied. His explanations were:

1) He realized that vaccination rates in Princeton were high and he wanted to “fit in.”

2) He gave a rationale for why he was not vaccinated.

3) He stated that he wanted to see people’s faces to get to know building administrators, teachers and students, so he unmasked regularly and asked others to unmask.

4) He said that he would mask in the future.

Trust would have been established if Mr. Chmiel had continually worn his mask and insisted others wear masks as is required, and the PHS community would have been safer. We are not writing about his vaccination status. We are writing because Mr. Chmiel made the choice to lie and endanger the PHS community.

Mr. Chmiel removed our ability to give informed consent about our own health decisions. His violation of district and state regulations – and CDC guidance – has put the entire building at risk. His demonstrated lack of judgment regarding the simple act of mask-wearing had a trickle-down effect on everyone in the building, and calls into question his ability to create a safe learning environment. Mr. Chmiel repeatedly lied, put us all at risk, and has shown that he is unfit to serve as building principal. We no longer trust his leadership.

Now that the PPS HR team is in place, we ask that Mr. Frank Chmiel be put on paid leave while a thorough HR investigation is done to determine his harm to the community and to decide what personnel actions should be taken.

Thank you for hearing our concerns.