Outdoor school graduations in New Jersey following social distancing rules necessitated by COVID-19 will be allowed starting July 6.
“To the Class of 2020, I am proud to say that you will have your opportunity to join with your classmates and families to celebrate your graduation,” proclaimed Gov. Phil Murphy.
But school districts and families of the graduates will have to wait an additional day for the particulars.
After Holiday Weekend
Murphy at his daily briefing May 26 announced plans for outdoor graduation ceremonies can be held after July 6 but must comply with social distancing mandates to ensure the health and safety of all in attendance.
The governor noted the administration officials had debated whether to have it before or after July 4, but fell on the side of having the extra week.
The state will give schools a maximum number of people allowed at a ceremony based on updated health data, Murphy said.
But the specific guidelines of a social distancing graduation ceremony will not be released until May 27 by the state’s Departments of Education and Higher Education.
Among the requirements for commencement ceremonies the state did announce include:
- Must adhere to the relevant capacity limitation in place at the time of the ceremony
- Districts and institutions must determine the minimum number of staff and faculty necessary to facilitate commencement ceremonies and adjust attendance requirements accordingly;
- Caps, gowns, diplomas, and other materials must be mailed to individual student homes, sent electronically where possible, or otherwise distributed in a manner that complies with social distancing guidelines;
- All activities must be coordinated in consultation with municipal officials, such as the local Office of Emergency Management, local law enforcement, first responders, and local health officials.
Additionally, DOE guidance will stipulate that commencements must be held only for graduation from middle school or high school, and not for other ceremonies that mark promotion from one grade to the next.
Districts and institutions of higher education can continue to opt for virtual or drive-through/drive-in ceremonies with only virtual ceremonies held prior to July 6.
Murphy has faced pressure from both sides of the aisle to allow for in-person graduation ceremonies and some who had pushed for the action questioned the governor’s motivations after the approval.
North Jersey lawmakers have pushed the issue in recent days. The Waldwick Board of Education signaled it was ready to pursue legal action on June 1 if a date to allow graduations was not announced.
That move followed legislation introduced by Assemblyman Jay Webber urging Murphy to allow high school graduation ceremonies. Assemblymen Christopher DePhillips and Kevin Rooney, two of the sponsors of Weber’s resolution, have offered their support to the Waldwick Board of Education and called on Murphy to allow in-person graduations to take place.
On social media, Weber stated after Murphy’s announcement “Win for the kids, great! But if “data determines dates,” what data support making everyone wait until July 6? Decision is based on politics & fear, not science.”
State Sen. Kristin Corrado (R-40) echoed those sentiments as well in congratulating those who “successfully made their voices heard through numerous petitions, letters, phone calls, and emails to elected officials.”
“While I am thrilled that our seniors will have their time to shine, I question why July 6 is the chosen date,” said Corrado in a press release. “If the public can currently gather at parks and beaches in a socially distant and safe manner, our graduates should be able to walk within the next month.”
School districts in the state had begun planning alternative graduation ceremonies, such as virtual celebrations or “drive thru” graduations. Some superintendents had prepared plans for socially distant ceremonies, including student-only options or ones with limited guests.
Murphy said some schools may be too large for a single ceremony with social distancing, resulting in ceremonies broken up across different times or even days to ensure proper health protocols are followed.
“The steps we are taking are necessary to ensure the health and safety of everyone in attendance,” said the governor. “But we are equally as confident that no one will ever forget the way we will celebrate the Class of 2020.”