Chanting “No Chmiel, no deal” and “We want Chmiel, we want Chmiel,” Princeton High School students and their parents gathered at the high school campus for a mid-day rally March 20 in support of former Principal Frank Chmiel.
The crowd of about 100 or so people included students and their parents, many of whom spoke in favor of Chmiel and against Superintendent of Schools Carol Kelley and the school board in the aftermath of Chmiel’s March 17 firing.
Some of the students held hand-made posters that said “Transparency,” “Chmiel is the real deal,” “Listen to students,” and “Keep Chmiel.” They positioned themselves at the Houghton Road driveway entrance to Princeton High School.
Parent Sasha Weinstein, co-president of the Princeton High School PTO (Parent Teacher Organization), said she was “very concerned” when she learned late on March 17 that Chmiel had been fired. He was in his second year as principal at the high school.
“That was the last straw for me. I never met a principal like Frank. He is a real, true gem. That’s why I am fighting for him,” Weinstein said through a bullhorn that was passed from speaker to speaker.
Weinstein said Kelley and the school board owe the parents and students an explanation for their decision to fire Chmiel. It has “traumatized” Princeton High School, she said.
Princeton High School sophomore Richard Jean-Pierre took the bullhorn and told the attendees that there is not a single person in the crowd whose name Chmiel did not know.
“He saved a lot of lives. He saved you, he saved you, he saved you,” Jean-Pierre said, pointing toward students in the crowd.
“I don’t see the future of this school going anywhere good,” he said.
Another student said there had been three principals in three years. There is a need for stability.
Chmiel “pushed us and he knows us. He made us feel heard and valued. Why can anyone say ‘no’ to that? We can take our concerns to Valley Road (the administration building),” the student said.
Junior class president Ashlena Brown grabbed the bullhorn and said the school administration does not know the high school.
“The school board can’t know what’s best for us. This is anything but a done deal. It is up to us. We demand transparency,” Brown said.
Students spontaneously began chanting “Fire Kelley, keep Chmiel.”
Parent Peter Meyers praised the students for “showing up.”
“What are we trying to teach? I am really proud of you students. What you are learning (at the rally) is more than what you are being taught,” Meyers said.
Parent Shenwei Zhao said the administration needs to ensure that students have stability. The school board needs to be pressured to share what it is looking for in a school principal, he said.
“According to the regulations, they can’t talk. They are not going to do anything until we keep pressuring them. They can’t hide behind regulations,” he said.
Looking around at the small crowd of students, Zhao said the administration did not want them to gather, but it is their right. Any effort to discourage students from speaking out is against the U.S. Constitution, he said.
Some students said they were discouraged from attending the rally. One student said they were told in an email that there would be a demonstration in front of the high school and they should expect an increased police presence.
There were no police officers visible in the crowd at the entrance to the high school. A Princeton Police Department patrol car was parked on Moore Street, several hundred feet away.
Wrapping up the protest, Weinstein said Chmeil is a “good man.”
“You don’t do that to a person like this. If there is an injustice, be an upstander,” Weinstein said.