May 24, 2023

PPBC Board Saddened to See BOE Decision Underscored by Post-Hearing Words, Actions

To the Editor:

The Princeton Parents for Black Children (PPBC) Executive Board commends the BOE for affirming its nonrenewal decision at Principal Frank Chmiel’s Donaldson hearing. The Board made the difficult but correct decision despite vocal but misguided opposition. We are saddened to see that decision underscored by the former principal’s and his supporters’ post-hearing words and actions.

This was not a “he said, she said” contest. Dr. Kelley’s well-supported statement of reasons was held to a higher legal standard than the response. It was supported by witnesses and complainants including Board members, teachers, students, and parents in numerous investigations and documented meetings over an 18-month period. His response was not subjected to fact checking nor cross-examination.

In his response, he complained that a favorable letter PPBC wrote upon his request, when he organized the first campaign to renew his contract last year, was not in his file. He invoked the PPBC commendation but to our dismay, he only provided partial facts. When he asked for our support, Chmiel absolutely deserved our praise despite his serious challenges. He had been very generous with his time. Our monthly evening meetings with him often lasted over an hour. We greatly appreciated his attention; he made sure we had access to facilities for meetings and events. He promised to improve the conditions for Black, brown, and special needs students.

Unfortunately, the promises went mostly unfulfilled and many of the incidents cited in Dr. Kelley’s report were corroborated by our members, students, and administrators, familiar with building operations and harm done to students and families. For example, promises to reduce the discipline disparity were not met. Black and brown students were disproportionately disciplined while white students avoided mandatory suspensions for fighting and vaping. The former principal’s decision, against his staff’s advice, to turn the gender-neutral bathrooms into eight-stall bathrooms instead of one-stall with a lock, has turned one into a co-ed lounge. And, the former principal rightly deserves credit for naming and supporting the creation of the ROARE Center, but Dr. Kelley’s intervention was needed to assure its survival.

The community, including the media with its sensational reporting, can choose to put this to an end now or allow it to fester. Based on the former principal’s latest published communication, he continues to instruct his supporters how to attack the Board, community members, and the people he managed. Some of his supporters are continuing his campaign in very destructive ways, such as manufacturing a video claiming to show a security breach juxtaposed with what they claim is a weapon found on school grounds. The “weapon” was identified as a bagel knife used in a recent school event.

We believe most of his supporters are earnest and care about the students. We totally understand why they supported his return. We are heartbroken that the former principal has made his exit public and vitriolic. Our community and our students did not deserve this.

Teri Boyd
For the Executive Board of Princeton Parents for Black Children
College Road