TRENTON, NJ — While school districts across the state have been planning alternatives to traditional graduation ceremonies, many plans could violate Gov. Murphy’s “stay-at-home” order.

In a letter to school administrators throughout the state on May 9, New Jersey State Police Col. Patrick J. Callahan said that any in-person ceremonies with 10 or more people should be canceled or postponed until the restrictions in Executive Order 107 are lifted.

These include graduations, parades, proms and any event that invites people to gather at a certain location. In a clarification issued later, the state Attorney General’s Office said the directive does not apply to “drive-by” parades when vehicles pass by homes as a form of recognition. Instead, it was intended to address situations where spectators assemble to view an event, Callahan further explained during Gov. Phil Murphy's May 11 press briefing. 

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“While it is recognized that milestones such as graduations deserve the acknowledgement of the school and parent communities … it is critical to understand the need to acknowledge academic achievements in ways that do not compromise or endanger public health during the COVID-19 emergency,” said Callahan, who also serves as state director of emergency management.

Belmar Elementary School officials could not be reached for comment on how the directive may affect graduation plans for its eighth-grade class. In recent weeks, the school’s pre-K and kindergarten teachers have held small wave parades for their students — a much-welcomed “social distant” visit in this time of home instruction. This type of recognition appears to still be permitted under the attorney general’s clarification of Callahan’s directive.

READ MORE: Belmar Elementary Pre-K Teachers Go on Parade to Boost Spirits During Home Instruction

Callahan and Assistant Education Commissioner AbdulSaleem Hasan have advised school administrators to hold virtual graduation ceremonies and other remote forms of recognition.

“We recognize that this sudden disruption to the normal operating procedures could be jarring for school communities at all levels,” Hasan said in a letter to school districts. “The resilience and adaptivity required to thrive in the face of unprecedented situations are characteristics embodied by the Class of 2020.

Tips from the DOE for hosting a virtual ceremony include:

  • Stream the ceremony on the district website or on another streaming service that includes prerecorded messages.
  • Consider reaching out to celebrities or public figures to record speeches or messages for the graduating class.
  • If resources allow, consider developing a virtual reality graduation, where within a virtual graduation environment, student avatars participate in a graduation ceremony.

Hasan also advised that schools consider asking members of the graduating class to take leading roles in the graduation ceremony. Students could submit video messages (while wearing their cap and gown) that could be shown during the virtual ceremony along with prerecorded messages from speakers. The videos would be edited together in the flow of a traditional graduation ceremony, and students’ names and their messages would be announced with their photo displayed.

Hasan added that communities across the country have shown their support by making a special effort to recognize the Class of 2020 by posting banners with students’ pictures around the school community, listing the names of graduates in local media, and creating yard signs for all students to post.

Click here for Executive Order 107, commonly called the "stay-at-home" order.  

Click here for Callahan’s Administrative Order 2020-4, which limits attendance at any event to 10 persons.

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