Frank Chmiel ’98, the recently dismissed principal of Princeton High School, is appealing the Princeton School Board’s recent decision to not reinstate him, his lawyers confirmed to the Daily Princetonian. The lawyers also confirmed that they filed a notice that leaves open the possibility of a lawsuit. Both the notice and the appeal are due June 15, 90 days after the date of his non-renewal notice.
David Schroth, an attorney representing Chmiel, told the ‘Prince’ that he filed the appeal to the Commissioner of Education and Office of Administrative Law. Additionally, they served a tort claims notice to Superintendent Carol Kelley, Assistant Superintendent Kimberly Tew, Assistant Superintendent Rebecca Gold, and the eight Board of Education members who voted not to renew Chmiel, as well as the Board of Education as an entity. Schroth said he must wait six months after serving the notice before filing a civil lawsuit.
The Princeton School Board voted to not reinstate Chmiel by a 2–8 margin following a nearly-five hour public hearing on Monday, May 15. This came weeks after students and parents coordinated a school walkout to protest his March 17 removal.
The school board addressed a packed crowd — about 200, according to Planet Princeton — for the five-hour special meeting, which was posted online. More watched the meeting from an adjacent room after its unexplained relocation to the Princeton Middle School cafeteria from the auditorium.
After the public comment portion of the meeting, Kelley read the statement of reasons for Chmiel’s dismissal, which had not been made public until then. The reasons listed included: “lack of trust,” “poor judgment [and] failing to communicate on matters affecting health and safety,” “poor judgment/decision making in general,” and “failure to achieve significant progress towards goals.”
Kelley listed several specific events she says led to her decision, including the discovery that Chmiel had failed to disclose that he was, at the time, unvaccinated; the handling of an intruder to the school on October 31, 2022; and an informal vote of no confidence from the teachers.
“Over the past two years as principal of PHS, Principal Chmiel has repeatedly demonstrated poor judgment and disregard for policies and procedures that protect the safety and security of our students and staff,” Kelley read from the statement. “His failure to communicate crucial information related to the health and safety of our student body and staff, and failure to fulfill the essential job requirements necessary to ensure the safe and smooth functioning of PHS has resulted in an informal vote of no confidence by PHS teachers.”
However, Chmiel and his lawyers, Schroth and Ben Montenegro, responded that “everything in the statement of reasons has been refuted legitimately” through six witness testimonies and a personal statement. Chmiel presented graphs and emails as evidence against his dismissal. He also alleged Kelley broke state law and violated his contract by not properly supervising him.
Chmiel’s witnesses included PHS faculty and staff, students, and his advisor, a coach brought in by the District. The witnesses disputed that the faculty had taken a vote of no confidence, downplayed the security incident outlined by Kelley, and argued he had made significant steps in improving both campus safety and his professional development.
In his personal statement, Chmiel alleged that Kelley used faulty data as reasons for his dismissal and never communicated to him any concerns about a continued lack in performance. He described the statement as “inaccurate, incomplete, and, frankly speaking, dishonest.”
“The statement is saturated with so much dishonesty, it’s outrageous. My team and I will expose the lies,” Chmiel told the Board. “Throughout our presentation, you’ll see a pattern of leaving out essential details, including inaccurate and false information in official documents, mischaracterizing events, and knowing and using faulty data to craft this image of me as an ineffective principal.”
Chmiel addressed the issue of his vaccination status, saying he had hesitated to get the vaccine because of a health condition, and said he “apologized for not disclosing his vaccination status.”
Chmiel called the intruder incident “grossly mischaracterized,” noting it was a former student hanging out with his friends that was “immediately” addressed.
“It was clear to the building monitors, our administrative team, and me that this was a former student goofing around and posed no threat to the school whatsoever. It would have been reckless and irresponsible to unnecessarily cause a school-wide panic over a clearly harmless trespasser,” Chmiel said in the meeting, adding that he advocated for more security measures after the incident.
Members of the public who spoke during the meeting were nearly all in favor of reinstating Chmiel, with only one of the over two dozen public speakers opposing his renewal.
“I hope you make the wise decision tonight. Let us feel you are listening to us and you are listening to our students here,” one parent said during the meeting. “The dismissal of principal Chmiel will send the wrong message that the Princeton Public School System doesn’t appreciate talent.”
School board member Jean Durbin motioned to renew Chmiel, and school board member Robert Christopher seconded.
“[Chmiel] brought the circus to our district,” Durbin said, noting her displeasure of the public proceedings and how the public acted during the hearing. “But I’ve heard enough today that concerns me, so I will make a motion.”
“This is not easy for me. I take this very seriously,” school board member Mara Franceschi said while explaining the reason for not moving to renew Chmiel. “I believe enough of the statement of reasons stand. There is not one specific thing. There has been a constant drip, drip.”
Chmiel and his team now turn to the appeals process, which Schroth says could take years. The appeal to the Office of Administrative Law is a direct appeal to the Board’s vote, and the tort claims notice could turn into a civil lawsuit if the School District does not settle. Schroth says the goal of the tort lawsuit is generally financial damages, “but things can be negotiated,” if the principal position is open at the time of settlement.
In a statement to the ‘Prince,’ the Board of Education denied any legal wrongdoing that Chmiel alleged in the hearing.
“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,” the statement said.
Kelley declined to comment on the hearing in a statement to the ‘Prince.’
Still, Schroth told the ‘Prince’ he remains hopeful for the appeals process.
“This case reeks of fraud and dishonesty at virtually every turn,” he said.
Charlie Roth is a head Data editor and senior News writer for the ‘Prince,’ focusing on local politics coverage.
Annie Rupertus is an associate News editor for the ‘Prince.’
Please direct any corrections requests to corrections[at]dailyprincetonian.com.
Correction: A previous version of this article said that the initial location of the hearing was the Princeton Middle School auditorium, when it was the gymnasium. The ‘Prince’ regrets this error.