Gov. Ron DeSantis appeared to get visibly annoyed at the sight of students wearing face masks before a press conference at the University of South Florida in Tampa, Wednesday, and he made his frustration known.
“You do not have to wear those masks,” DeSantis told the students as he took to the podium to announce $20 million in funding for cybersecurity education. “Please take them off. Honestly, it’s not doing anything. We’ve gotta stop with this Covid theater. So if you wanna wear it, fine, but this is ridiculous,” he said.
The governor, who has outlawed mask mandates in Florida schools, shook his head in apparent frustration.
People can be heard laughing in response, either out of embarrassment of relief. At least two of the students removed their masks, according to the video.
The viral moment was captured by WFLA News Channel 8, Tampa’s NBC station.
NEW: @GovRonDeSantis annoyed with USF students—
"You do not have to wear those masks. Please take them off. Honestly, it's not doing anything. We've gotta stop with this Covid theater. So if you wanna wear it, fine, but this is ridiculous."https://t.co/7j1Pb2hV53 @WFLA pic.twitter.com/ZIOyTHLOh3
— Evan Donovan (@EvanDonovan) March 2, 2022
WFLA’s Evan Donovan noted in a subsequent tweet that the kids standing behind DeSantis were high school students from Tampa who were invited to the presser.
The Florida governor, who has three kids of his own, has been a vocal opponent of masking schoolchildren, arguing they do more harm than good. Last year, he took a series of actions to block mask mandates, “even signing an executive order withholding state funds from schools that impose them,” as WFLA noted.
In February, he endorsed a House proposal to strip $200 million in funding from 12 school districts that defied his order banning mask mandates. Last month, he said parents should be given the power to sue school districts if they have a child who “was illegally forced-masked this year in Florida.”
He said students who have speech, emotional and physical problems should also be able to sue.
DeSantis has also stressed that parents should decide on whether their kids wear masks in school.
The school district echoed that message in a statement to WFLA.
“We are excited our students from Middleton High School were highlighted as part of the statewide focus around cyber security education,” said Hillsborough Schools Superintendent Addison Davis. “Our Cyber Security pathway at MHS has had tremendous success through student’s earning industry certifications, participating in internships and leading the way in computer systems and information technology. As always, our students should be valued and celebrated. It is a student and parents’ choice to protect their health in a way they feel most appropriate. We are proud of the manner in which our students represented themselves and our school district.”
The Hillsborough School District said there were seven students from Tampa’s Middleton High School in attendance at the press conference.