May 24, 2023

Controversy Continues in Wake of Chmiel Decision

By Donald Gilpin

Rather than resolving the issue, the five-hour, standing-room-only Donaldson hearing on May 15, at which the Princeton Public Schools (PPS) Board of Education (BOE) voted 8-2 to support the superintendent’s dismissal of Princeton High School (PHS) Principal Frank Chmiel, has set off a flurry of angry responses — from parents and students, from community supporters of Chmiel and of the BOE and superintendent, and from Chmiel himself.

“I have not given up the fight,” Chmiel wrote in a May 18 letter to the PHS Parents Discussion Group, and he accused Superintendent Carol Kelley of committing actions that were “illegal and criminal.”

Chmiel thanked the parents’ group for their strong support and went on to claim that faculty and staff had been “silenced” by the superintendent and discouraged or reprimanded for speaking in his behalf.

He also blamed the BOE for not taking the time to investigate the evidence brought up in his defense and his allegations of illegal activity by Kelley. Chmiel also denounced the teachers’ union leaders for misleading and acting against the wishes of their constituents in regards to a proposed vote of no confidence against Chmiel. 

Later on the same day, May 18, BOE attorney Vittorio LaPira issued a response “to various allegations and statements by Mr. Chmiel, his representatives, and members of the community.” LaPira denied any wrongdoing by the Board and emphasized the Board’s support for First Amendment rights to freedom of speech.

“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,” LaPira wrote. “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.”

Meanwhile, parent groups have been planning their next steps to support Chmiel and respond to the perceived injustice at the hands of Kelley and the BOE. One parent group held a Zoom meeting with San Francisco parents who had organized a successful effort to recall School Board members in their community.

In brainstorming priorities moving forward, pro-Chmiel groups are also looking for legal help, possibly a lawyer who is willing to work pro bono, in pursuit of legal issues against Kelley and the Board. Others are looking for residents who would be willing to run in the November election in seeking to unseat current Board members who are coming up for reelection.