Princeton school board denies First Amendment allegations noting the dedication of two hours of public comment at recent meeting
In the controversy over Princeton High School Principal Frank Chmiel’s dismissal, his attorney, David Schroth, has issued a warning to “some (of those) involved” to not stifle students from speaking freely about Chmiel.
Schroth, who represents Chmiel in his fight to be reinstated as principal, said he had learned that “some involved are (allegedly) pulling students aside to cast doubt, discourage and even instill fear regarding their right to speak and assemble in response to how the district has treated their principal.”
“I want to put them on notice that abuse of power and position by scaring students regarding their constitutional rights guaranteed by the First Amendment of freedom of speech and assembly is legally actionable,” which means there could be litigation, he said in a March 24 statement.
Attempting to squash or discourage students from speaking out is “contrary to the core principles of empowerment espoused within the halls of Princeton High School,” Schroth said.
The Princeton Public Schools Board of Education disputed Schroth’s allegations that students were being hampered in speaking out in a March 26 response.
“The board wants to emphasize that at no time has it or its members, representatives, or district staff or administrators suggested that students, staff or community members cannot or should not exercise their First Amendment rights regarding Mr. Chmiel or any other topic,” the school board wrote.
On the contrary, the school board dedicated more than two hours at its March 21 meeting for the community to speak out about matters concerning the schools, including Chmiel, and “even prioritized comments from students,” according to the March 26 statement.
At the March 20 rally at Princeton High School in support of Chmiel, parent Shenwei Zhao told the students that 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 in the crowd gathered at the driveway entrance to Princeton High School. There was a Princeton Police Department patrol car parked on Moore Street, which was several hundred feet away from the rally.
A Change.org petition in support of Chmiel, which was created within hours after he was placed on administrative leave March 17, has been signed by nearly 3,000 people. While it is not possible to determine the number of students who signed the petition, it appears that some students signed it.
“Mr. Chmiel has done nothing but help all his students in every way possible. He even treats us all the same. Without Mr. Chmiel, Princeton High School would be nothing,” one signer wrote, who appeared to be a student.
Another signer who identified herself as a Princeton High School student wrote that Chmiel was the only principal that made her feel “extremely comfortable racially at the high school and to fit in. He also made so many others feel like they had a purpose and a reason to go to school every day.”