"You do not have to wear those masks. I mean, please take them off," DeSantis said as he approached the podium. Several of the students standing behind the podium laughed.
"Honestly, it's not doing anything. We've gotta stop with this COVID theater. So if you wanna wear it, fine, but this is ridiculous," DeSantis continued.
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According to his office, DeSantis visited USF to highlight a $20 million investment in new cybersecurity and IT training programs for middle school, high school, and college students. Of the six students visible in the video, all of whom reportedly attend Middleton High School in Tampa, four can be seen removing their masks. One stays masked, while the view of the remaining student is blocked by DeSantis' body.
Addison Davis, the superintendent of the students' school district, said in a statement that "it is a student and parents' choice to protect their health in the way they feel most appropriate. We are proud of the manner in which our students represented themselves and our school district."
Florida school districts are prohibited by state law from mandating masks, Forbes reports.
USF "strongly encourage[s] COVID-19 vaccines, including boosters," but does not require students to be vaccinated or to wear masks on campus.
DeSantis rose to national prominence during the COVID-19 pandemic for refusing to impose rigorous restrictions and taking action to keep local schools and businesses from requiring masks or vaccines as a condition of employment or service.
Speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando last week, DeSantis touted Florida's status as a "citadel of freedom" and declared that "Florida has defeated Faucism," MSNBC reported.
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