Hillsborough students, teachers speak out after viral moment with Governor DeSantis on masks

Posted at 9:08 AM, Mar 04, 2022

TAMPA, Fla. — It’s a moment that’s gone viral: as Governor Ron DeSantis got settled for a press conference at USF Wednesday, he made comments to a group of students on masks. Now, students and teachers who were in the room are weighing in.

“You do not have to wear those masks. I mean, please take them off. Honestly, it’s not doing anything, and we’ve got to stop with this COVID theater. So if you want to wear it, fine, but this is ridiculous,” DeSantis said before a press conference Wednesday.

The governor was heard speaking to a group of Middleton High students who were asked to be a part of the press conference. Eric Marshall was one of those students right behind the governor.

“I was perfectly fine with taking it off,” said Marshall. “I felt like yes, he was a bit of an abrupt ask, but he asked, and I was fine with it, so I just took it off.”

The governor’s office sent ABC Action News this statement:

"The governor told the students, “you can wear them if you want” but there’s no evidence masks make a difference. That has been clear for a long time, and the data informed our state’s official guidance. New official guidance announced by Gov. DeSantis and State Surgeon General Dr. Ladapo last week advises against wearing facial coverings in a community setting. Following Florida, the CDC has even stopped recommending mask wearing for most Americans, and even the most liberal states have dropped mask mandates for schools.

After two 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. If hundreds of politicians (many of whom are high-risk seniors) can congregate without masks at the State of the Union, then young people should also feel safe going mask-free."

Right now, the CDC’s COVID community level indicates Hillsborough County as high. The CDC said masks can help protect you and others from COVID-19, explaining that layered prevention strategies, like staying up to date on vaccines and wearing masks, can help prevent severe illness and reduce the potential for strain on the healthcare system.

Multiple studies have found a benefit from masks including ones by:

“I don’t think it was right for him to demand that from them,” said Alex Brightman, Middleton High’s Cyber Security Computer Science instructor.

Brightman told ABC Action News he was with the students at the press conference and four are his current students. Initially, he says he didn’t hear the comments, but saw the video later.

“If they believe in wearing their masks because of, they’re being told by their parents, they’re going to stick with that, and they should be able to wear it no matter where they are and where they go,” said Brightman.

Hillsborough County Superintendent Addison Davis sent ABC Action News this statement:

“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.”

Now more than 24 hours later, students in the middle of that viral moment tell me they’re ready to move on.

“Just in my eyes, it was just an ask and was nothing that big,” said Marshall.