Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is getting flak for taking his frustration with face masks out on a group of students during a recent press conference.

DeSantis was visiting the University of South Florida to announce funding for cybersecurity education, but it's what he said on his way to the podium that is making headlines.

The Florida governor scolded a group of students who were positioned to stand behind him during his speech, telling them to "stop with this COVID theater."

You do not have to wear those masks. I mean, please take them off. Honestly, it’s not doing anything and we’ve gotta stop with this COVID theater. So if you want to wear it, fine, but this is ridiculous.

DeSantis' opposition to masks and COVID protocols has been well documented through just about every phase of the pandemic. He has made headlines for blocking mask mandates, signing executive orders to withhold funds from schools who imposed them, and has been vocal that parents "should be given the power to sue school districts if they have a child who was illegally forced-masked this year in Florida."

But party and politics aside, there were many people who took issue with the way DeSantis spoke to the students—especially parents.

Speaking of parents, a few of them spoke to the media after their kids went viral in the video that featured the DeSantis scolding.

Not everyone saw DeSantis' actions in a negative light. There were some who defended what he did to those high school students.

 

The Hillsborough School District confirmed that the seven children in attendance at the press conference were all students at Middleton High School in Tampa.

“We are excited our students from Middleton High School were highlighted as part of the statewide focus around cyber security education,” said Hillsborough Schools Superintendent Addison Davis. “Our Cyber Security pathway at MHS has had tremendous success through student’s 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 parents’ 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.”

When reached for comment, Governor DeSantis' office stood by his message to the students.

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

Much like anything that is COVID-related, it's nearly impossible to look at this situation through a non-political lens, but I can only hope that now that we see the CDC relaxing mandates and requirements that one day we will be free of bickering when it comes to this topic.

We truly have enough dividing us as a society and COVID-related issues just presented more points of contingency that ultimately led to folks feeling like they needed to take a "side" in all of this. The exchange with the father of one of the kids that I shared above is a prime example of just that.

You've got a dad who says he thinks his son should be the person who makes the decision on wearing a mask, but the boy's mother insists that he does. Meanwhile, this high school kid has the highest-ranking official in his state pretty much telling him to take it off.

Granted, everyone's situation is different, but that is just one of the numerous snapshots of mixed messages, bullying, peer pressure, and ridicule that has hitched their wagons to this entire pandemic and I'll be happy when it's all gone and we're back to whatever our healthy new normal will look like.

Of course, that will look different depending on who you are, but never forget that a little bit of understanding and grace still goes a long way.

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