TRENTON, NJ - Facing increasing pressure from students and their families, Gov. Phil Murphy announced Tuesday that schools will be allowed to have in-person graduation ceremonies, something that would have previously been prohibited under the state’s COVID-19 social distancing orders.

The graduation ceremonies, Murphy said, will be permitted to begin July 6 as long as they comply with the social distancing requirements. The state Department of Education would release guidance on the graduations Wednesday, he said.

“Given that some graduating classes may be too large to accommodate a crowd within the restrictions in place for outdoor gatherings, this guidance may require multiple ceremonies to be held across different times and even different days to ensure proper social distancing,” Murphy said.

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As of Tuesday, the requirements in place allow for outdoor gatherings of up to 25 people. Murphy said that health data will dictate the limits are on outdoor gatherings are come July.

“Our goal is to ensure our students are given the send-offs they richly deserve and which they have been working toward,” Murphy said. “We want them to celebrate and be celebrated by their families, friends and the educators who helped get them there.”

Even beforfe the governor's decision, Roxbury High School was planning to host a virtual graduation ceremony as well as an in-person ceremony, according to Roxbury High School Principal Dominick Miller.

In a May 19 letter to parents, Miller said the virtual ceremony is scheduled to take place June 19. 

He said administrators are exploring three options for an in-person graduation and are soliciting input from parents and students through the use of a survey.

“Logistically our in-person ceremony will most likely take place over two or three days to address congregation restrictions and to maintain the health and safety of all, per state guidelines,” Miller said. “When we confirm our in-person ceremony process and provide our seniors and senior families with all pertinent information also on June 1.”

Murphy’s announcement follows calls from both students and parents for the state to permit graduation ceremonies, including a letter from Westfield High School senior class president Alexis Hammer asking that the graduation ceremonies be permitted. Millburn High School’s senior class president, Jamie Serruto, has also penned a letter to the governor asking for the ceremonies to be permitted.

One online petition posted to Change.org, calling on Murphy to allow for the graduation ceremonies had nearly 60,000 signatures as of Tuesday morning.

In a press release, the state issued these guidelines relating to in-person high school graduations:

  • Must take place on or after July 6;
  • 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.

View the full press briefing:

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