NEW JERSEY -- While school districts across the state have been planning alternatives to traditional high school graduation ceremonies, any plans that school districts had in the works appear to violate Governor Murphy’s Executive Order No.107, which directs New Jersey residents to stay at home and prohibits public gatherings.
In a letter to school administrators, NJ State Police Colonel Patrick J. Callahan, State Director of Emergency Management, wrote that “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.”
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.
In light of the components of Executive Order No. 107, and in the best interest of the health and safety of the public, in-person ceremonies, including graduations, all parades, including “wave parades,” that invite people to gather at a certain location, proms, and other similar celebrations violate the enumerated conditions of the order, and should therefore be cancelled or postponed until such time as these restrictions are lifted. -- Colonel Patrick J. Callahan State Director of Emergency Management
Col. Callahan advised that virtual celebrations and other remote forms of recognition should take place instead of any in-person or public ceremonies.
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.
Check back for more on this developing story.