New Jersey Rolls Out Graduation Rules for Class of 2020

New Jersey is offering three graduation models to school districts to allow celebrations for the Class of 2020 in the coming months.

The rules come after Gov. Phil Murphy announced May 26 plans for outdoor graduation ceremonies can be held starting July 6 but must comply with social distancing mandates to ensure the health and safety of all in attendance.

The New Jersey Department of Education (DOE) guidance released May 27 offers three options for K-12 school commencement ceremonies: virtual; drive-through/drive-in; or modified in-person, outdoor ceremonies. Virtual ceremonies can be held at any time, while the latter two are allowed after July 6. The type of ceremony is being left to each school district. 

No Numbers

Absent from the guidance are specific numbers of how many people can participate in an outdoor ceremony. DOH stated ceremonies must meet the relevant capacity limitations on in-person gatherings in place at the time of the ceremony.

With sharing or exchanging materials increasing the risk of COVID-19  transmission, DOE is encouraging scaling back person-to-person contact at any ceremony. Among the directives school districts are to follow include diplomas and student caps/gowns provided in advance of graduation ceremonies; programs, maps, and other documents sent to families before the ceremony; and chairs and other equipment should not be shared and should be sanitized before and after use.

Plans to be Submitted

School districts planning to hold a ceremony after July 6 must certify to the DOE via an online submission form beginning June 5. The form will certify the planned ceremony will comply with requirements for gatherings, including social distancing. The form must be submitted no later than seven days prior to the scheduled date of the ceremony.

DOE in its guidance noted critical factors for districts to enact for drive-in/drive-through or a modified in-person ceremony, starting with schools limiting the number of staff members to only those required to facilitate the commencement ceremony.

DOE Requirements

In order to ensure the health of those in attendance, schools are encouraged to screen visitors upon arrival with non-contact thermometers and excluding any person with a temperature exceeding 100.4 °F. 

Other requirements for graduation ceremonies include

  • School districts should plan ceremonies in consultation with municipal officials, including local health officials;   
  • Modified in-person commencement ceremonies must take place outdoors. Indoor ceremonies are not permitted. Open-air rain tarps, tents, and other outdoor structures may be used only to protect against foul weather or for shade;
  • Schools may consider limiting the number of guests or holding student-only commencements. Ceremonies must meet the relevant capacity limitation on in-person gatherings in place at the time of the ceremony;
  • Districts should consider class size and available space to determine the number of ceremonies needed. 
  • The length of ceremonies should be shortened to limit the time students and attendees are exposed to each other. Districts are to limit speakers and live performances and avoid the sharing of microphones or other equipment that may pose a health risk;
  • In accordance with CDC recommendations, attendees should wear face coverings.

Drive-Through Ceremonies

Drive-through and drive-in commencement ceremonies can be held in school parking lots, drive-in movie theaters, stadium parking lots, or other large parking lot venues that provide sufficient space to accommodate event attendees arriving in their cars. 

Projection screens or sound equipment may be used to allow school staff to call student names, display photos or videos, and provide other audio-visual support. 

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