TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Gov. Ron DeSantis made his frustration with face masks known when he visited Tampa for a press conference Wednesday morning.
DeSantis was at the University of South Florida to announce funding for cybersecurity education. Before taking the podium to address the audience, the governor scolded a group of students behind him who were wearing face masks.
“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.”
Hillsborough School District told 8 On Your Side there were seven children in attendance at the press conference who are all students at Middleton High School in Tampa.
“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 governor’s opposition to masks is no secret. He made a series of moves last year to block mask mandates, even signing an executive order withholding state funds from schools that impose them. 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.
In a statement to 8 On Your Side, the governor’s office stood by his message to the students.
“As the governor said, ‘you can wear them if you want’ but there’s ‘no evidence’ masks make any difference,” said press secretary Christina Pushaw. “That has been clear for a long time, and the data informed our state’s official guidance. Following Florida, the CDC has even stopped recommending mask wearing for most Americans. 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 was with the students Wednesday to announce a $20 million program to create cybersecurity opportunities through the school.
“One of the things we’ve tried to do since I became governor was increase Florida’s competitiveness in terms of workforce education,” DeSantis said. “And that’s really looking to see what’s in high demand. And that’s really a diverse thing, in terms of what’s going on right now.”