Public records search of Merrill files turns up no complaints related to alleged behavior

TRSU conducted both a hand search of paper documents dating to 2000 and an electronic search of all digital files, which date to 2013.

By Cynthia Prairie
©2022 Telegraph Publishing LLC

Following a Public Records Act request by The Chester Telegraph for access to all documents — including personnel files — related to any complaint or concern filed against former Green Mountain teacher Norm Merrill, the Two Rivers Supervisory Union has replied that a hand search of paper files and a 15-hour search of digital files did not turn up any pertinent documents.

The paper files extend through Merrill’s entire tenure at Green Mountain, beginning with his hiring in 2000 up to May of this year. Digital files dated from 2013 to the present.

The Telegraph was looking for student or parental complaints about Merrill related to inappropriate actions with students at school.  However, it was understood that certain non-specific complaints would not have been filed such as ones that stated an employee “was creepy” or “is weird.”

The school system went further than The Telegraph’s request, according to TRSU Superintendent Lauren Fierman. In an interview on Monday, she said, “What we looked for was anything written that showed up that was a formal complaint in writing somewhere. While you (The Telegraph) asked for things of a sexual nature, we looked for all complaints.”

Merrill, who was fired by TRSU on the night of Wednesday, May 25, remains in jail in northern Vermont awaiting trial on a three-count federal indictment involving the creation of child pornography that occurred in his home in Chester. Since the indictment, the government has said that Merrill had created more images at what appears to be his wife’s home in Connecticut.

The Telegraph made the formal request to Fierman earlier on that day. Since it was just prior to the long Memorial Day weekend, The Telegraph took into account that the search may take longer than anticipated. However, a reply was received the following Thursday, June 2.

While personnel documents are assumed to be closed to public viewing, The Telegraph based its request on a 2013 lawsuit brought — and won — by The Rutland Herald against the city of Rutland for access to individual police personnel records as they sought to determine what officers were viewing pornography on city owned computers.

The Telegraph noted that “such documents are exempt only if they “reveal intimate details of a person’s life, including any information that might subject the person to embarrassment, harassment, disgrace, or loss of employment or friends.’ ” However the court in The Herald case found that there “is significant public interest in knowing how the department supervises its employees and responds to allegations of misconduct.”


May 19: GM middle school teacher arrested on federal charges of creating child pornography

May 23: Merrill pleads not guilty, ordered to remain in custody

May 26: Fired by GMUSD board, Merrill awaits trial in jail

June 14: Judge denies Merrill motion for pre-trial release

Although several social media forums have hinted at student accusations surrounding Merrill’s conduct at school, after an extensive search of records, Superintendent Fierman responded on June 2, that “Our IT director has performed a thorough digital search of all our available online records. We have not found anything that would be responsive to your request.” In a followup email, Fierman said that she personally “conducted a hand search of all paper files prior to (TRSU Director of Technology Lauren Baker) Lauren’s search for all things digital.”

The Telegraph then asked Fierman for a detailed explanation of Baker’s search, which was provided on Monday, June 6.

“The searches …” Baker wrote, “were related to any digital emails or document existing in Google Workspace domain owned by Two Rivers … The Google account was not in full use until the 2014-2015 school year.” 

She continues, “I used Google Vault app to perform numerous iterative searches in order to isolate any concern or complaint concerning the conduct of Norm Merrill.” Using keywords “complain” or “complaint,” “inappropriate,” “sexual” and “Merrill,” GM emails, their recipients and attachments were also searched, including those of former Principal Tom Ferenc, who retired in the spring of 2018, and Norm Merrill himself.

Baker adds that the word “inappropriate” became challenging because it appears in the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act “disclosure in the footer of many staff members and it seems to be a very common term in referencing student academics, tech use and peer relationships.”

Baker writes that she was “looking for any patterns or time frames that might uncover additional names or topics that would further narrow the search,” but after about 15 hours, “was unable to find anything but extremely professional content connected to this request.” She adds that her search did turn up content “that was categorized officially and unofficially as complaints … not connected with Norm Merrill.” That fact, she writes, gave her assurances that if any content related to Merrill was present, her search would have discovered it.

Baker also notes that her search turned up “numerous complaints” from students and parents about too much homework from Merrill. She also notes “numerous” emails from Merrill to parents concerning either behavior in class or academics  and a “fair number of referrals” from Merrill concerning “inappropriate” student behavior referred for “disciplinary action to the office” as well as those referred to the guidance department.

During Monday’s interview, Fierman said that while their search did not find “any formal written complaints, that doesn’t mean that there weren’t phone complaints.” She added that, “If someone makes a report, we do some level of investigation.” She also recalled that when she was principal of GM, from 2018 to 2020, “The only complaint I ever heard about Norm Merrill was that he was a hard grader and gave a lot of homework.”

Despite the fact that the records search turned up nothing, she emphasized, “We continue to investigate.” So far no one working at the school had any direct knowledge of inappropriate behavior.

The principals that Merrill worked under were: Carol Gilbert, 2000-2007; Tom Ferenc 2007-2018; Lauren Fierman 2018-2020; interim Principal Mike Ripley 2020-2021; and Keith Hill, 2021-.

Anyone with information concerning the case can contact the Homeland Security Investigations Tip Line via telephone or file a report online:

  • HSI Tip Line Phone Number: 866-347-2423

  • HSI Tip Line Web Tip Form:

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About the Author: Cynthia Prairie has been a newspaper editor more than 40 years. Cynthia has worked at such publications as the Raleigh Times, the Baltimore News American, the Buffalo Courier Express, the Chicago Sun-Times and the Patuxent Publishing chain of community newspapers in Maryland, and has won numerous state awards for her reporting. As an editor, she has overseen her staffs to win many awards for indepth coverage. She and her family moved to Chester, Vermont in 2004.

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  1. Mitchell Rounds says:

    Allan, I am not shocked. I can think of a great many people who have complained about the way Merrill teaches. I can remember him walking into rooms and randomly going through students computers, calling a student autistic, insulting students intelligence and the list goes on.

    He’s not an anomaly, since I and my sister have been in the school we know of six staff members who have had questionable relationships with their students. I think you might know of some of them since your wife is the school counselor, and I know that kids have gone to guidance for help in the past.

    In fact, I can recall many times students would comment in class on the actions of certain teachers. We even talked to other teachers about it, yet every teacher dismissed us and told us to not talk bad about our teachers. The school has been rotting from the inside out for years and it’s amazing nothing has been done about it. From the horrible mishandling of a rape case between two students, the rampant inappropriate teacher-student relationships, and the shoving under the rug of middle schoolers being strip-searched by the school. The school has had every opportunity to clean house, but when parents raised their concerns it fell on deaf ears.

  2. Allan Garvin says:

    In response to the initial comment, I am shocked as well. We all are shocked. I wish you had followed up on your complaint if you had known anything. In regards to why a few students transfer after middle school, I can offer this: We have a strong middle school program. Many students choose to take advantage of that, then exercise their “school choice” option when they get to high school. We also have many students that transfer to GM at that time. The move to high school is just a natural time for transition. As someone that is actually in the building every day, I can assure you that the teachers place the well-being of the students as a priority and that “teacher misbehavior towards students” is an anomaly.

  3. Venissa white says:

    Thank you for speaking up Jan. It’s important to clarify that this school has not been great in regards to documenting incidents or following up. It’s easier to hide inappropriate actions if there’s no paper trail—schools are well versed in FERPA, risk adverse, and complete incompetence in following their own policies and procedures when handling complex subjects.

  4. Jan Rounds says:

    I’m shocked. I brought complaints/concerns to Norm Merril’s attention and to the attention of the entire 8th grade team when my son was harassed in 8th grade by Norm and Another current male 8th grade teacher. I asked the team if anyone had looked into the reason so many Chester students changed schools after 8th grade. Unfortunately, teacher misbehavior directed toward the students at GMUHS is not an anomaly. I will contact the state’s attorney office with my previous concerns.