March 25, 2023

Chmiel’s Lawyers Issue Statement Supporting His Fight for Renewal as PHS Principal; BOE Responds

By Donald Gilpin

In a statement issued the evening of Friday, March 24 in response to reports that Princeton High School (PHS) Principal Frank Chmiel has been put on administrative leave and recommended for nonrenewal, attorneys David P. Shroth and Ben Montenegro have written that Chmiel, who is their client, “has not done anything illegal regarding the management of Princeton High School or anything wrongful toward students, faculty, or staff.”

The statement sent by Shroth, a lawyer in the Hamilton-based firm of Destribats Campbell Staub and Schroth, LLC, points out Chmiel’s success — including many positive evaluations and references — in his previous school district in Franklin before coming to PHS in 2021.

The statement goes on to note that state law gives the Board of Education (BOE) the right to renew Chmiel’s contract, with or without the recommendation of the superintendent, after he is granted the right to address the Board.

The statement also noted that, “Principal Chmiel is humbled by the outpouring of support he has received from students, staff members, families, and community members, anyone upon whom he has had a positive impact. This is a testament to the wonderful work and accomplishments he has achieved in his time at Princeton High School. It has been brought to my attention that some involved are pulling students aside to cast doubt, discourage, and even instill fear regarding their right to speak and assemble in response to how the district has treated their Principal. I want to put them on notice that abuse of power and position by scaring students regarding their constitutional rights guaranteed by the First Amendment of freedom of speech and assembly, is not only legally actionable but contrary to the core principles of empowerment espoused within the halls of Princeton High School.”

The Princeton Board of Education released the following statement in response on Sunday afternoon:

“Mr. Frank Chmiel’s attorneys released a statement on Friday regarding his current employment status. Because Mr. Chmiel has not waived his rights to privacy, the Board will continue to refrain from releasing information related to Mr. Chmiel’s personnel file. The Board also wants to emphasize that at no time has it or its members. representatives, or district staff or administrators suggested that students, staff, or community members cannot or should not exercise their First Amendment rights regarding Mr. Chmiel  or any other topic. On the contrary, the Board dedicated over two hours at its last meeting for the community to speak about matters concerning the schools, including Mr. Chmiel, and even prioritized comments from students.

“While the Board understands that community members will, at times, disagree about personnel decisions, it sincerely hopes that the community will continue to express their opinions in a respectful manner, without denigrating or interfering with the rights of others to express their own views.”

The controversy over Chmiel’s March 17 replacement continues in Princeton and on social media. Nearly 1,000 attended the March 21 Zoom meeting of the BOE Long Range Planning Committee, with almost all who spoke in the two hours devoted to public comment supporting Chmiel. A large turnout is anticipated for the next meeting of the full Board, which will be on March 28 at Princeton Middle School, with the public session beginning at 7:30 p.m. The BOE is expected to take up the recommendation of a new interim PHS principal, Kathie Foster, at that meeting.

Meanwhile a petition initiated by parents, calling for Princeton Public Schools Superintendent Carol Kelley’s resignation and the reinstatement of Chmiel, had 1,912 signatures as of Saturday noon and a student-initiated petition demanding Chmiel’s return had 2,939 signatures.

This story was updated on March 27.