TRENTON, NJ – Graduates and families hoping for some type of socially-distanced ceremony at the end of the school year are likely to be disappointed by a letter to the NJ Department of Education and all private and public school  administrators by N.J. State Police Superintendent Colonel Patrick Callahan on Saturday.

In the letter, Callahan said in-person graduation ceremonies, parades, including drive-by wave parades and proms  should be postponed or canceled as they violate components of Governor Murphy’s Executive Order No.107, which directs residents to stay at home and forbids gatherings.

In his letter Callahan said, ““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.” He continued to say, "As my Administrative Order No. 2020-04 explains, any event, including a graduation that has more than 10 people in attendance, would be in violation of Executive Order No. 107."

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Department of Education (DOE) Advises Districts to Hold Virtual Celebrations

Additionally, Assistant Commissioner AbdulSaleem Hasan of the NJ Department of Education (DOE) wrote to local school administrators recognized that “high school graduation is certainly a milestone for students and families” and proposed a number of suggestions for "holding virtual graduation ceremonies and related celebratory activities to honor this year’s graduating class while ensuring the health and safety of the school community during the COVID-19 emergency."

We recognize that this sudden disruption to the normal operating procedures could be jarring for school communities at all levels. The resilience and adaptivity required to thrive in the face of unprecedented situations are characteristics embodied by the Class of 2020. -- Assistant Commissioner AbdulSaleem Hasan of the NJ Department of Education (DOE)

Tips from the DOE for hosting a virtual ceremony include:

  • Stream your ceremony on your 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 seniors in your school district.
  • If resources allow, your district may 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. Seniors 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 wrote 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’ senior pictures around the school community, listing the names of graduates in local media, and creating yard signs for all students to post.

“We encourage school districts to coordinate any recognition efforts with various community stakeholders,” Hassan wrote.

Editor's Note:  TAPinto Clark will continue to monitor these developments and has already reached  out to the leaders of the Clark school district.

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