TRENTON, NJ - High school and college seniors throughout New Jersey will enjoy the pomp and circumstance of an outdoor graduation with their fellow students and parents in attendance as Gov. Phil Murphy yesterday announced a relaxation of his crowd size and social distancing executive orders issued in March.

"To the class of 2020, I am proud to say that you will have your opportunity to join with your classmates and families to celebrate your graduation," he said at Tuesday's 11 a.m. press briefing.

“Despite the uncertainty of these times, our students deserve to have their hard work acknowledged and celebrate safely. We have reached a point where we feel confident moving forward and giving our graduates the send-off they have so rightly earned,” the governor added. 

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Graduation ceremonies will be permitted to begin July 6 as long as they comply with social distancing and other requirements, according to directives that will be issued formally on Wednesday. The guidance will include requirements that ceremonies be held outdoors, adhere to social distancing protocols, and observe capacity restrictions in order to protect the health of students and families celebrating these milestones amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Michael Callahan, director of Human Resources for the Hillsborough school system, released the following statement:

"The Hillsborough Township Public Schools is committed to honoring our cherished class of 2020.  This past Friday, Ms.(Karen)  Bingert, High School Principal, sent out a statement communicated through a video message outlining the plans for graduation.

Additionally, Ms. Bingert outlined clarifications and updates via a written message last night.  The district has communicated consistently that the COVID-19 pandemic has created an ever-changing landscape where guidance from the state and county is changing day-by-day and sometimes hour-by-hour.

"We are now in receipt of broad guidance from the governor’s office noting that outdoor graduations will be permissible after July 6, 2020 with capacity restrictions that are yet to be determined.  Once the guidance is provided by the New Jersey Department of Education, the district will plan accordingly."

According to the state Department of Education, other requirements for commencement ceremonies will include:

  • Must take place on or after July 6, 2020;
  • Must take place outdoors or be drive-in/drive-through (no indoor ceremonies will be allowed);
  • Must adhere to the relevant capacity limitation in place at the time of the ceremony (this may require districts to hold multiple ceremonies held over a period of time to ensure capacity restrictions are not exceeded);
  • Districts and institutions must determine the minimum number of staff and faculty necessary to facilitate commencement ceremonies and adjust attendance requirements accordingly;
  • Caps, gowns, diplomas, and other materials must be mailed to individual student homes, sent electronically where possible, or otherwise distributed in a manner that complies with social distancing guidelines;
  • All activities must be coordinated in consultation with municipal officials, such as the local Office of Emergency Management, local law enforcement, first responders, and local health officials.
  • Additionally, DOE guidance will stipulate that commencements must be held only for graduation from middle school or high school, and not for other ceremonies that mark promotion from one grade to the next. Districts and institutions of higher education can continue to opt for virtual or drive-through/drive-in ceremonies held in accordance with Executive Order 142. Only virtual ceremonies can be held prior to July 6. 

Murphy did say it was possible that the ceremonies at each individual school might have to be extended over more than one day because of issues dealing with social distancing.

“New Jersey is taking a wise, sensible approach toward graduation ceremonies,” said Education Commissioner Lamont O. Repollet. “This plan balances our desire to recognize the accomplishments of our graduating students, while providing the necessary safeguards for their safety, as well as the safety of their friends, families and school staff.”

“We recognize that the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has significantly impacted students’ plans to walk across graduation stages this year,” said Dr. Zakiya Smith Ellis, Secretary of Higher Education. “We owe it to New Jersey’s students to celebrate their drive to overcome tremendous odds and complete their degrees. With this new guidance in place, we will be working with institutions to help ensure healthy, safe celebrations for students and families.”

Editors Note: This story will be updated throughout the day.

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