PRINCETON, NJ — Days after the Donaldson hearing, former Princeton High School Principal Frank Chmiel sent out an email to his well-wishers thanking them for their support, and alleging that district administrators were trying to silence his supporters.
In an email to the PHS parent discussion group Thursday, Chmiel accused district administrators of reprimanding staff members for speaking in his favor and said students were being dissuaded from protesting his ouster.
Chmiel named three faculty and staff members and said they were “being silenced” by district administration.
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The former principal said administrators have been calling students at their homes “searching for information” on planned demonstrations and other activities protesting Superintendent Carol Kelley’s actions.
“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,” Chmiel said.
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Chmiel’s Donaldson hearing was held on Monday. The Board of Education turned down his bid to be reinstated by an 8-2 vote. More: Princeton BOE Turns Down High School Principal Reinstatement Bid 8-2
He said the BOE had come to the meeting with 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,” Chmiel said.
He also suggested that someone should file a complaint against the BOE 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,” Chmiel said. “This meant that they supported the superintendent’s recommendation despite the false pretexts upon which she was basing this.”
During the Donaldson hearing, Kelley said that Chmiel misled his colleagues about his vaccination status during the pandemic, thus alienating the teacher’s union and the Princeton Regional Education Association (PREA). She said over 140 teachers complained about Chmiel failing to adhere to the state’s masking policy during the height of the pandemic.
Responding to that, Chmiel said:
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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.
Chmiel said he went to the Donaldson hearing with an original document of up to 51 pages. “I had so much information to share than time would allow,” he said.
The former principal said he was not giving up the fight and is still working with his attorneys on the matter.
“The superintendent was dishonest throughout the Statement and in other official legal documents,” Chmiel said. “Her actions are illegal and criminal according to statute. We have not given up our fight.”
Speaking about the future, Chmiel said starting July 1, he will no longer have income or medical benefits. With the matter of his dismissal going public and being featured in local media, Chmiel said he might find it “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,” he said.
Speaking about his future plans, Chmiel said:
“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.”
School District Denies Allegations:
In response to Chmiel’s allegations, the school district released a statement via attorney Vittorio S. LaPira, denying all allegations of wrongdoing.
“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. 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.
“As many are aware, the Board provided Mr. Chmiel with the opportunity to convince the Board to offer him reemployment as contemplated by N.J.A.C. 6A:10-9.1, 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. 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.”
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