Governor Ron DeSantis chastised a group of teenagers on Wednesday for wearing masks as they stood behind him during a press conference at the University of South Florida.
The Florida Republican told students to take off their masks as he took to the podium to talk about funding cybersecurity education opportunities through the university. The students were in high school.
“You don’t have to wear these masks. Please take them off,” a visibly annoyed DeSantis told the students, who were all wearing masks. “Honestly, it doesn’t matter. We have to stop with this COVID theater. So if you want to wear it, fine. But it’s ridiculous.”
The comments were followed by some of the seven students who took off their masks. Several teenagers chose to keep their masks on for the press conference.
According to WFLA-TV, the students were from Middleton High School in Tampa, which is part of the Hillsborough School District. HuffPost left a message for the school principal to confirm whether the students DeSantis scolded attended classes there.
“We are thrilled that our Middleton High School students have been highlighted as part of the statewide focus on cybersecurity education,” Hillsborough Superintendent told the station. , Addison Davis.
Davis added, “As always, our students should be valued and celebrated. It is a student and parent choice to protect their health in a way they deem appropriate. We are proud of how our students represented themselves and our school district. »
The governor did not acknowledge the students after finishing his speech, which halfway through turned into commentary on hot political topics, President Joe Biden and Tuesday’s State of the Union address.
DeSantis, whose state has seen alarming levels of COVID-19 infections, has long opposed guidelines on masks and vaccines that would help the public fight the virus. The governor made several decisions last year in an effort to block mandates and drew nationwide backlash for trying to withhold public funds from schools implementing them. A judge blocked that effort after the parents sued the state, arguing that DeSantis’ order violates the rights of parents who want to keep their children safe.
Last month, the Republican said parents should be able to sue school districts if they have a child who was told to wear a mask in Florida this year. However, the governor appeared not to recognize the students’ personal choice to wear a mask on Wednesday.
Research has shown that wearing masks reduces the spread of the coronavirus, which has killed nearly a million Americans since it was first identified in the country two years ago. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently updated their guidelines to say they no longer recommend mandating masks for most Americans, although anyone can choose to wear one if they feel feel more secure.