Public praises voluntary mask use in new school year, addresses critical race theory at Willmar School Board meeting

A large group of school district residents attended the Willmar School Board meeting to offer their comments on face masks, critical race theory and transgender students. Most speakers praised the district and the board.

Heidi Paulson of Willmar speaks to the Willmar School Board Monday Monday, Aug. 9, 2021. Paulson praised the school district for not making face masks a requirement in the new school year. She delivered a petition against mask mandates signed by more than 1,000 people. Linda Vanderwerf / West Central Tribune

WILLMAR — More than 60 people attended the Willmar School Board meeting Monday, the largest crowd in years.

The meeting at the Willmar Education and Arts Center was moved to the building’s auditorium from the usual meeting space in the rehearsal hall.

All of the nine speakers had signed up to speak about issues not on the meeting agenda, so they spoke after the board had finished its regular business. The board approved a plan to use e-learning on days when school is closed due to bad weather.

Most of those who spoke made it a point to list the family members who had graduated from Willmar Senior High School and praised the school board and the district.

The speakers spoke about several issues. Some spoke about face masks, including 8-year-old Cora Paulson, who thanked the district for the new mask policy released last week. She said it was harder to learn when teachers and students had to wear masks.


Masks will be recommended but not required when school opens after Labor Day.

Cora’s mother Heidi Paulson submitted a petition signed by more than 1,000 people in a week who do not want masks to be mandatory.

Six speakers talked about their opposition to critical race theory and included other issues, like masks, sex education and transgender students’ access to restroom facilities and sports.

Before they spoke, Director of Teaching and Learning Carrie Thomas said in a report on the state’s proposed new social studies standards that the theory, sometimes studied in law and graduate schools, is not part of the standards.

Critical race theory originated in higher education. According to Reuters, the theory asserts that racism is woven into the U.S. legal system and ingrained in its primary institutions. The Reuters article also reports that the theory is not taught in U.S. high schools.

Paul Hoffer told the board he is opposed to “rewriting history books” and teaching critical race theory. He said he found the theory racist and said he rejected it.

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In 42 years in the newspaper industry, Linda Vanderwerf has worked at several daily newspapers in Minnesota, including the Mesabi Daily News, now called the Mesabi Tribune in Virginia. Previously, she worked for the Las Cruces Sun-News in New Mexico and the Rapid City Journal in the Black Hills of South Dakota. She has been a reporter at the West Central Tribune for nearly 27 years.

Vanderwerf can be reached at email: or phone 320-214-4340
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