TAMPA (WFLA) – In a video that has been viewed millions of times, Gov. Ron DeSantis asked a group of Hillsborough County High School students to remove their masks during his press conference at USF Wednesday morning on new state funding for cybersecurity education.
“I would tell (the governor) to stop bullying kids,” Kevin Brown Sr. told News Channel 8 in an exclusive interview. His son is one of the seven students from Middleton High School at the press conference.
Dawn Marshall told News Channel 8 she is very upset about how the governor spoke to her son and the other students, adding she had told him to wear a mask in school.
“You do not have to wear those masks,” Gov. DeSantis said. “I mean, please take them off. Honestly, it’s not doing anything and we’ve gotta stop with this COVID theater. So if you want to wear it, fine, but this is ridiculous.”
Marshall said her initial reaction to seeing her Eric in the video was “he knows I’m gonna say something, his eyebrows went up and he looked shocked.”
“It’s just shocking that the governor told these kids take off your mask,” she said. “He pretty much said take off your mask, it’s stupid, and take off your mask your parents don’t matter.”
Her son Eric Marshall, a senior at Middleton High School, said he knew right away the governor’s words would be controversial. He opted to take his mask off.
“Did you feel pressed by the governor to do that?” News Channel 8 asked him.
“A little,” he said, “it was more of pressure of an adult figure asking me to do something and it’s just like alright.”
Freshman Kevin Brown Jr. decided to keep his mask on even after someone pulled away from standing behind the governor.
“I was thinking I don’t know if I should take it off or leave it on cause its the governor,” Brown said. “He asked us to take it off but I thought about it and it’s my right to have my mask on.”
Hillsborough Superintendent Addison Davis issued a statement that read in part: “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.”
Brown’s father told News Channel 8 he agrees.
“His mother tells him to wear the mask,” Kevin Brown said. “I tell him it’s his choice, so he made that choice and the governor has no right to tell no kid or no one who they can or can’t wear a mask. He doesn’t have that right.”
According to the governor’s office, there’s “no evidence” masks make any difference.
“After two years of mixed messages from health authorities and the media, the governor wants to make sure everyone is aware of the facts and data now, so they can feel free and comfortable without a mask,” the governor’s Press Secretary Christina Pushaw said in a statement.
Dr. Thomas Unnasch, an infectious disease doctor at USF, said while cloth masks aren’t that effective, studies show N95 and KN95 masks provide good protection against respiratory viruses like COVID-19.