MADISON — An investigation by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction has found that former Fall River Superintendent Michael Garrow allegedly touched a student inappropriately multiple times while serving as a gymnastics coach in the School District of Jefferson in 2018.
In late August, the Fall River School District dismissed Garrow from the superintendent post he had held for four years.
According to the DPI report released to the Columbus Journal and Channel 27 News following open records requests, Garrow allegedly “engaged in grooming behavior of a pupil that was contrary to commonly accepted moral or standards and endangered the health, safety, welfare or education of (the student),” which constitutes grounds for revoking his educator license under state statute.
In addition, the DPI found that Garrow allegedly had inappropriate conduct and communication with a pupil while coaching in Jefferson at the same time he was working in Fall River.
According to the DPI, the Jefferson Police Department investigated the allegations and as far as DPI is aware, no charges were referred to a district attorney. That was confirmed by a search on Wisconsin Circuit Court Access.
Garrow has denied the accusations, according to the DPI. He did, however, relinquish his educator license on Jan. 8 in an agreement with the DPI.
DPI spokesperson Benson Gardner said that his department began the investigation into Garrow in August 2018.
According to the subsequent DPI report, Garrow served as a volunteer gymnastics coach in Jefferson during the 2017-18 school year. The report states that Garrow exchanged Snapchat messages with the alleged victim on an almost daily basis, as well as allegedly sat next to the student, then a senior, at team dinners and “very close” to her on the couch.
Garrow reportedly placed the back of his hand against the student’s thigh on multiple occasions, and allegedly grabbed her waist after a team dinner. On one occasion, he commented on the size of her thighs and wrapped his fingers around her thighs, about six inches from her groin.
The DPI report states that on Jan. 27, 2018, during a bus trip, Garrow allegedly asked to see a photo of the student wearing a swimsuit. When she said no, he reportedly grabbed the phone from her hands and looked at the photo.
During practices, the report states, Garrow would pick up the student, lift her above his shoulders, and not let her down until she insisted. Another incident alleges that Garrow grabbed the student around her torso and pulled her down in a bear hug, saying it was a good way to crack her back. He allegedly rubbed his arms across her chest while pulling her down.
The DPI investigation also found that Garrow told the student she should travel with him to coach a summer camp and that his wife wouldn’t be there. The DPI report states that in April of 2018, Garrow comforted the student while she was crying by placing her head on his chest and rubbing her back.
Documents say the girl’s high school team spent the night at Garrow’s Sun Prairie home in February 2018. Garrow allegedly moved his hand under the student’s shirt, touching bare skin and also placed a finger under the waistband of her pants. Garrow stopped touching when he heard a noise, according to the report.
One day, team members complemented the abdominal muscles of members of the Jefferson wrestling team, the report said. Garrow claimed he could beat them in a flex-off. The following day, Garrow allegedly sent a photo to the student through SnapChat showing his bare chest and abs while lying in bed. The caption read “good night.” He later asked the student to delete the photo.
According to the story written by Columbus Journal reporter Kevin Damask, the DPI report states that on May 2, 2018, School District of Jefferson Superintendent Mark Rollefson dismissed Garrow from his volunteer coaching position after hearing about the allegations. Rollefson told Garrow, through a telephone conversation, the allegations would be investigated, the report said.
Rollefson reportedly also informed Garrow that he was to have no contact with Jefferson students, other than his stepdaughter. The report states that Garrow understood and said he would no longer coach Jefferson teams.
On April 11, 2019, the DPI report notes, Garrow applied for an administrator’s license, even though he had been serving as Fall River’s superintendent for almost four years by that time.
As part of the application, (Garrow) submitted a conduct and competency response to the department to which he answered “no” to a question asking if he ever resigned, retired, been disciplined, dismissed or had his contract non-renewed for alleged “immoral conduct.”
However, in 2012, Garrow resigned from the Milton School District while under investigation for inappropriate conduct.
Making a false statement on his application constitutes grounds for license revocation, according to the DPI. The department discovered Garrow’s false statements Aug. 19, 2019. A few days later during a special school board meeting, the Fall River Board of Education terminated Garrow’s contract.
Fall River School Board President Keith Miller told 27 News last week that officials in his district were not informed of Garrow’s ban from students in Jefferson until months after it took effect.
Miller reportedly said that when Fall River officials became aware of the allegations, Garrow was given a “letter of expectations,” but allowed to continue in his position.
“And we certainly weren’t going to jump to conclusions while it was under investigation,” Miller told Channel 27 News. “You don’t want to prejudice an individual and put yourself at risk of a lawsuit” (if the allegations are false) ...”
When Garrow was fired as Fall River’s superintendent, Miller reportedly said the decision involved Garrow’s connection to a student outside of the Fall River district. Last week, Miller declined to comment as to whether that student was the Jefferson High School student referenced in the state documents.
According to the DPI report, Garrow cannot apply to seek reinstatement as a licensed educator in Wisconsin.
After negotiations between Garrow and DPI, he continues to deny the allegations, and agreed to surrender all licenses and permits issued by DPI. Documents say that “for health and financial reasons, respondent is unable to pursue this matter further.”
Channel 27 News was unable to reach Garrow for comment.
Regarding his time in Milton, Garrow resigned in 2012 as superintendent in the Milton School District after staff members alleged he had shown them an inappropriate photo.
The Milton Courier wrote at the time that the investigative report concluded that sometime in June 2012, Garrow used a school district computer and “accessed a photograph on Facebook that was possibly inappropriate and that certainly caused discomfort to the staff members to whom it was shown.” The report also concluded there was “no substantiated evidence of misconduct” into an allegation Garrow inappropriately fraternized with staff members.
In a written response, Garrow said he did not believe the photo in question was inappropriate. He said the attorney “never asked me if I was able to bring up the photo, or if the photo was still available.” The investigative report stated, “The photograph that was accessed by Dr. Garrow is no longer on the District’s computer system.”
The Courier reported that Garrow said his decision “to show any Facebook photo (even appropriate photos) during work hours was not a great choice,” but continued, “I strongly disagree that my conduct required a full blown investigation, paid non-disciplinary leave, without any prior conversation with me about the allegations.”
According to the report, in June 2012, Garrow was talking with two subordinate staff members at a Milton school about a staff member who had transferred from one school to another. Garrow allegedly used a school computer to access a Facebook photo of “an adult female” who the two staff members said did not appear to be wearing any clothes.
The photo was described by both staff members as “blurred” and one of the staff members described it as “artsy.” Neither could say for certain that the woman in the photograph was not wearing any clothes.
Garrow told officials he did not recall the photo, but thought the woman might have been wearing a bikini.
In his written statement, Garrow said the conversation was about a staff member who was dating one of his friends. He told one of the staff members “that, if she would like, I could bring up a picture of the person, and the staff member indicated to me – ‘Yes, bring it up – I want to see (this photo).’”
Garrow said the other staff member came to look at the photo as well, and Garrow stated his friend “is both pretty and intelligent, and the staff members both agreed that she was pretty.” Garrow said he told the investigator he did not remember the specific photo, but said the woman was clothed and the photo was appropriate.
Garrow said the staff members did not appear uncomfortable and did not express concern about the photo or the conversation.
During the interview by the attorney, Garrow said he was asked about his attendance at the Fourth of July beer tent in Milton — which he said he did not attend because he was in Jefferson watching fireworks — and other social events, including playing volleyball at the Red Zone.
Garrow said he confirmed he participated in a volleyball league and the teams would occasionally have drinks after games. He said it was “common place” and the teams included Milton teachers, city staff members and a local bank president. Ultimately, the investigative report found there was no evidence that Garrow “inappropriately fraternized with staff members.”
Garrow began his role as Milton’s district administrator on July 1, 2011, according to to the Courier. He replaced Bernie Nikolay, who served as the district administrator for three years before accepting the superintendent position in Cambridge, his hometown. Garrow served as the principal of Mount Horeb High School for five years before going to Milton.
He reportedly is residing in North Carolina now.