March 20, 2023

Controversy Over Dismissed PHS Principal Heats Up; Parents, Students to Rally Today

By Donald Gilpin

Last Friday afternoon’s replacement of the Princeton High School (PHS) principal Frank Chmiel has prompted a strong reaction from students, parents, and other members of the community, with a demonstration planned for 12:30 p.m. today, March 20 at PHS, as well as  the creation of various petitions and online groups in support of Chmiel.

Following up on its March 17 announcement that the assistant principals would be taking over at PHS, the Princeton Public Schools (PPS) Board of Education (BOE) issued another statement on Sunday, March 19 in responding to “numerous inquiries” regarding Chmiel’s status. The email stated that, in accordance with state law and public employee privacy rights, the BOE could not discuss the replacement of Chmiel, but noted, “The Board unanimously supported, and unanimously supports, the superintendent and the difficult decisions that needed to be made.”

The BOE missive continued, “We know that changes in leadership during the school year are difficult, but please know that whenever these occur, the Board and the administration always engage in a lengthy deliberative process, consider the impact of those changes, and discuss those with all affected employees (as well as their legal representatives).”

The Tuesday evening March 21 previously-scheduled BOE meeting, at 6 p.m. via Zoom, will devote the first hour to public comment, with further opportunity for public comment following discussion of other items on the agenda.

The BOE email concluded with a brief appreciation of Chmiel’s contributions to PHS. “We are thankful to Frank Chmiel for his service at Princeton High School and his strong connection with students, which was especially important as the students returned from the isolation of COVID,” it stated. “We wish him all the best in his future endeavors.”

Another email, sent out Sunday afternoon to PHS families from PHS Assistant Principals Rashone Johnson and Cecilia Birge, who are temporarily taking on the principal’s responsibilities, promised a smooth transition, with ongoing support for the students.

Opposition groups were not assuaged. A contingent of parents moved ahead with plans for a peaceful demonstration at the flag pole at the main entrance of PHS to demand “transparency and accountability from the superintendent and the BOE.”

One of the online petitions, which calls for the Board to rescind Chmiel’s termination, had collected more than 2,300 signatures by early Monday morning, and a parent-organized GoFundMe site had collected over $8,000 for Chmiel’s possible legal defense. Parents have also created a private Facebook site in support of Chmiel.