April 26, 2023

Chmiel and His Lawyers Consider Next Steps

PHS WALKOUT: About 100 Princeton High School students walked out of school early on Friday and marched down Moore Street to the Valley Road administration building in protest against last month’s dismissal of PHS Principal Frank Chmiel.  Chmiel and his lawyers are planning their next steps, considering whether to request an appeal hearing with the Princeton Public Schools Board of Education.

By Donald Gilpin

Lawyers for Frank Chmiel, who was removed last month as Princeton High School (PHS) principal, have confirmed that they have received from the Princeton Public Schools  (PPS) superintendent the statement of reasons for Chmiel’s nonrenewal.

Chmiel and his lawyers will now decide on their next step — whether to request a Donaldson hearing before the PPS Board of Education (BOE) to appeal the decision and whether that hearing would be public or private.

“We are reviewing the document and determining our next steps,” Chmiel’s lawyer David Schroth wrote in an email on Monday. “Until we have fully evaluated the statement of reasons I can’t say what our next steps will be.”

BOE President Dafna Kendal, by phone on Tuesday, said that she, by law, was unable to say anything about the BOE statement itself, but she noted that Chmiel and his lawyers have 10 days from receipt of the statement to request a hearing.

The 10-day deadline would presumably come at the start of next week, and the district would then have 30 days to schedule a hearing, if requested.

She emphasized that the Board is fully aware of the frustration for the community, and for the Board too, caused by the fact that the Board cannot provide any more information. “We’re not allowed to talk about personnel issues,” she said. “We’re prohibited. It’s frustrating.”

She added, “My feeling is that schools should bring communities together and not divide them. The Board is well aware that this a divisive time, and we’d like to help bring the community back together when we can.”

In the meantime, students, parents and the larger community are not waiting quietly for the next steps in the legal process to take place.  The new interim principal, Kathie Foster, has been on the job at PHS since March 30, but protests on public media, in the press, and in person continue.  More than 6,500 have signed various online petitions calling for Chmiel’s reinstatement and/or demanding PPS Superintendent Kelley’s resignation.

About 100 PHS students staged a walkout last Friday, and left school early, defying notice that they would be marked absent from their last two classes, to march down Moore Street to the district administration building on Valley Road.

At Friday’s walkout, as at BOE meetings, previous demonstrations, and on other online and in-person occasions in the past month, many students strongly voiced their support for Chmiel, their dismay at his dismissal, and their urgent hope to see him reinstated as principal.

“We are lost and confused,” said one student at Friday’s walkout. “Our mental health has been challenged trying to sort this out while focusing on our schoolwork at the same time.”

“It has been so disorienting to have administration be changed just like this, at the end of the school year,” said another. “it has been very hard.”

“We miss him,” said a third student.

After a short while on the Valley Road lawn a group of seven students was invited inside to meet with Kelley.

The hour-long meeting was reported by both sides as being a step in the right direction, but nothing like a resolution or agreement on the issues in question. 

“The superintendent said the meeting was very productive and I hope the beginning of a dialogue,” Kendal reported.