What to Know
- New Jersey schools can hold outdoor graduation ceremonies starting July 6.
- The Class of 2020 must be celebrated with social-distancing measures in place.
- Ceremonies must be limited in size, graduates won't be allowed to toss their caps and face coverings should be worn.
The Class of 2020 can be celebrated with in-person graduation ceremonies in New Jersey this summer but due to the coronavirus pandemic, commencements will look different than normal.
After Gov. Phil Murphy on Tuesday gave the go ahead for outdoor graduation ceremonies to take place starting July 6, late Wednesday the New Jersey Department of Education provided guidance on K-12 graduations that take social-distancing measures aimed at slowing the spread of the novel coronavirus into account.
The state education department offers three options for school graduations: virtual, drive-through/drive-in or “modified in-person, outdoor ceremonies.” Only the virtual ceremonies are permitted before July 6.
Schools must keep local police, emergency management and health officials in the loop on any plans.
Here is what public and private schools must do to hold in-person ceremonies
- Schools are encouraged to limit attendance based on capacity limits at the time (as of late May, gatherings were capped at 25). Districts should consider multiple ceremonies spread out over time and with cleaning procedures in between to keep the size of ceremonies smaller.
- Outdoor ceremonies can include shade. “Open-air rain tarps, tents and other outdoor structures may be used only to protect against foul weather or for shade,” the education department said.
- Students, staff and attendees must be seated at least 6 feet apart. Chairs shouldn’t be shared.
- The traditions of throwing caps in the air and handing out flowers should be avoided as the state looks to stop sharing of any materials.
- Everyone (except for children under 2 and those with a medical reason) in attendance should wear a face covering in accordance with CDC guidelines.
- Ceremonies should remain brief to limit that amount of time people are exposed to one another. “Districts should also limit speakers and live performances and avoid the sharing of microphones or other equipment that may pose a health risk,” the DOE said.
- Limit staff members to only those needed to facilitate the ceremony.
- Staff should monitor entrances and exits to prevent people from congregating. Schools are encouraged to utilize multiple entrances and exits to prevent crowding.
- The only indoor spaces that can be used are restrooms. If allowing restroom access, schools must put measures in place to limit congregating. Proper disinfecting also must be done.
- Schools and districts are encouraged to supply caps and gowns and diplomas before the ceremony. Programs and other materials should be mailed to families before the ceremony.
- People who are sick, have COVID-19 symptoms, have a family member with symptom, or have been exposed to someone with COVID-19 in the past 14 days should be encouraged to not attend.
- Schools should look to be inclusive and accessible to families and students by offering livestreams of the proceedings.
For Drive-in/Drive-Through ceremonies:
- Driving-oriented 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.”
- Accommodations will be needed for families without cars.
- Multiple ceremonies may also be needed.
- Weather could factor into the ceremonies considering cars may need to be turned off during the ceremony.
- Guidelines about programs, restrooms, sick people and accessibility also apply.
- The state will work with districts that had already planned drive-in events before July 6.
Starting June 5, all schools and districts must certify their graduation plan with the education department online no later than seven days before the ceremony to show compliance with the standards in place.
As of Wednesday, there were nearly 157,000 COVID-19 cases reported in New Jersey and at least 11,339 people had died from COVID-19-related complications.