March 3, 2022 -- Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis criticized a group of students for wearing face masks Wednesday at his news conference at the University of South Florida.

The students were standing behind DeSantis, an opponent of many COVID safety mandates, as he made an announcement about funding for a cybersecurity education initiative.

“You do not have to wear those masks. I mean, please take them off. Honestly, it’s not doing anything. We’ve got to stop with this COVID theater. So if you want to wear it, fine, but this is ridiculous,” DeSantis said, according to The Associated Press.

One of the students, high school freshman Kevin Brown Jr., told The Associated Press that he left his mask on despite DeSantis’s comments because there were many unmasked people at the event. “I was a little bit surprised at his tone,” the youth said.

Brown’s father said DeSantis should “stop bullying kids.”

“I tell him it’s his choice, so he made that choice and the governor has no right to tell no kid or no one who they can or can’t wear a mask. He doesn’t have that right,” Kevin Brown Sr. told TV station WFLA.

Hillsborough County Public Schools Superintendent Addison Davis said the students were excited to attend the news conference.

“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,” Davis said in a statement.

The CDC categorizes Hillsborough County as a high-risk area for COVID and recommends people wear masks indoors.

DeSantis has opposed mask mandates and other COVID safety measures, with his administration banning mask mandates in schools. He’s a possible GOP presidential candidate in 2024.

The governor’s office stood by DeSantis’s comments in a statement of WFLA.

“As the governor said, ‘You can wear them if you want’ but there’s ‘no evidence’ masks make any difference,” press secretary Christina Pushaw said. “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.”

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The Associated Press: “Florida Gov DeSantis berates kids for wearing masks.”

WFLA: “‘This is ridiculous’: DeSantis scolds students for wearing face masks during USF visit.”

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