A handful of students from Middleton High School were in attendance for Gov. Ron DeSantis' announcement. Before he was set to reveal a cybersecurity training initiative at the University of South Florida, DeSantis told the Middleton High School students and USF students standing behind him to take their masks off.
"You do not have to wear those masks. Please take those off. Honestly, it’s not doing anything. If you want to wear it fine, but this is ridiculous," DeSantis said before turning to the lectern and shaking his head.
Some students did what he said while others did not, including 14-year-old Middleton freshman Kevin Brown. He said a staff member with the governor also approached him.
"The lady she pulled me over and told me to take my mask off or stand to the side, and I took it off for a second but when I got back up there I put it back on because I didn’t feel comfortable with it off," said Brown. "I feel more safe with the mask on and everybody in there had no masks on, so I thought I should probably wear one to protect myself and to protect them. It bothered me a little bit because I don’t see why she had to tell me to take my mask off. If I want to wear it, I should be able to wear it."
The governor went on to announce a $20-million program aimed at creating more opportunities in cybersecurity through the school's Center for Cybersecurity.
In a statement to FOX 13's Briona Arradondo, a representative for the governor's office said "the CDC has even stopped recommending mask wearing for most Americans," however, the CDC says Hillsborough County is still considered a high transmission area, and guidance on the agency's website says to wear a mask indoors in public, in high transmission areas.
CDC mask guidance for Hillsborough County as of Feb. 24, 2022
Governor's office and school system reaction
"After 2 years of mixed messages and social engineering from health authorities and 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," said Taryn Fenske, spokesperson for the governor's office. "If hundreds of politicians (including high risk seniors) can congregate without masks at the State of the Union, then young people should feel safe going mask free."
Meanwhile, Hillsborough County Public Schools said it was staying focused on this exciting time for students. In a statement released Wednesday, the district said:
"We are excited our students from Middleton High School were highlighted as part of the statewide focus around cybersecurity education. Our Cybersecurity pathway at MHS has had tremendous success through students 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 parent’s 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."
DeSantis on COVID mitigation measures
DeSantis has been against lockdown methods seen among other states in the country, as well as championed a "Parents' Bill of Rights" that become law following the 2021 legislative session.
"All parental rights are reserved to the parent of a minor child in this state without obstruction or interference from the state, any of its political subdivisions, any other governmental entity, or any other institution, including, but not limited to, all of the following rights of a parent of a minor child in this state," and includes the right to "make health care decisions for his or her minor child, unless otherwise prohibited by law."
Last week, the governor spoke at the 2022 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), and pointed out to the audience that Florida does not require facial coverings.
"We protected people's rights, we protected people's jobs, and made sure every kid in the state of Florida had an opportunity to go to school in person," DeSantis touted. "Freedom has prevailed in the Sunshine State."