St. Charles School Board replaces member who quit over alleged threats from mask opponents

Matthew Kuschert replaces Carolyn Waibel, who resigned earlier this year

A divided St. Charles School Board on Thursday appointed Matthew Kuschert to fill a vacancy on the board amid concerns brought by community members that his family has financially supported litigation against the district for COVID-19 mitigation strategies.

It is unclear if his family helped pay for the attorney’s fees.

Voting “yes” were board members Heidi Fairgrieve, Joseph Lackner and Edward McNally. Voting “no” was board member Kate Bell.

“My vote is no and the reason for that is because I feel very strongly that we have had so much extra drama in the district that I’m confused as to why this would be a topic that we’re voting on, outside of the fact that we have to seat a board member,” Bell said. “It’s unfortunate. I have no knowledge of Mr. Kuschert as a person. This is not personal in any way.”

School Board President Jillian Barker and board member Becky McCabe abstained from voting. The St. Charles School District is one of 145 school districts statewide being sued over its COVID-19 mitigation measures, including mandatory masking. Gov. J.B. Pritzker and the Illinois State Board of Education also are named in the suit, which was filed in October.

Following the vote to appoint Kuschert, the school board went into closed session. Kuschert could not be reached after the meeting for comment.

Kuschert was one of three finalists for the vacancy. School board members interviewed the three candidates in closed session Monday.

Barbara Diepenbrock, who was recently named to the School Board’s Citizen Advisory Committee, had voiced concerns about Kuschert to board members prior to the closed session.

“An appointed and not elected board member should be as neutral as humanly possible,” Diepenbrock said, in addressing board members. “If this were an election, I think many of this would say, fine, let it ride, and we would show up to the polls and speak up about who should or shouldn’t be charged with being the voice for our children’s well-being. As it stands, we do not have the opinion option for a community vote.”

She repeated those concerns to board members prior to Thursday’s vote. Kuschert is filling the vacancy on the board caused by the resignation of Carolyn Waibel in October.

Kuschert is the owner and manager of UFC Gym Naperville and is a former assistant director of admission at Elmhurst University. Kuschert and his wife have two children who attend St. Charles School District 303 schools. He will fill the seat until the next consolidated election, which is April 4, 2023.