HILLSBOROUGH, NJ - The township school system has submitted a proposal for a high school graduation ceremony for review to state officials, a plan similar to one proposed by Mayor Doug Tomson earlier this week with one huge difference - the administration proposes to hold its ceremony indoors in the high school gym, while the mayor's plan envisions an outdoor ceremony at Mountainvew Park.

A second major difference concerns the opportunity for family members to view the truncated ceremony live - no one would be allowed inside the gym in the administration plan; Tomson's outdoor proposal would allow those in their vehicle to see their graduate walk across the stage to receive a diploma jacket. 

However, neither plan may go forward, depending on New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, who has said he was going to provide guidance after the Memorial Day weekend to school districts statewide on how/whether to proceed with graduation ceremonies for the class of 2020.

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Murphy has been signaling the past week that he was sympathetic to seniors, their parents, teachers and school administrators.

During his press briefing in Trenton on Friday, the governor said:

“We continue to say there’s hope for those who want to have some sort of outdoor, properly socially distanced graduation ceremony,” he said. “Your hope is well-placed — and I hope that we can have some guidance for you earlier midweek. We want to get this right. This would be a big gathering and it has to be done right.” 

Traditional graduation ceremonies and senior proms are banned under provisions of Murphy's executive orders on school closings issued in March to minimize contact in an effort to combat the coronavirus (COVID-19).

Karen Bingert, HHS principal, announced the school district's proposal for a live graduation in a You Tube videoyesterday. Ten days ago, Bingert had informed the school community that because of the pandemic, the school district planned to hold a virtual graduation ceremony on June 22; the YouTube video changes that scenario.

The YouTube video posted by the principal, describes the administration's plan in detail - students would be driven to the school, dropped off, escorted inside the gym by a member of the high school staff. Masks will be worn and social distancing will be adhered to.

Each seniors' name will be announced, they will walk across the stage, receive a diploma jacket, adjust the tassle on their mortar boards to acknowledge their achievement, exit the stage, go outside and toss their mortar board into the air. The entire process will be filmed and narrated professionally, and a video produced for each member of the class, according to Bingert.

She tells seniors and parents to put aside Thursday, May 28 and Friday, May 29 for the two-day ceremony.

She closes the video playing a guitar and singing a song to the tune of John Denver's "Take Me Home, Country Roads," the original lyrics replaced by the refrain, "Amwell Road, Take Us Home to the place we belong, Hillsborough High School Raider Country," 

Tomson's plan permits one vehicle per student, who must arrive at the park at a prescribed time, form a line, drive towards a portable stage, exit the car when near the stage, walk across the stage, receive their diploma, pose for a photo, and exit the stage into the awaiting car. The plan does not include the mortar board toss. The date for the ceremony under Tomson's proposal is June 22, the same date that Bingert says the video compilation will be released to the HHS community/

Township Committee member Frank DelCore, liaison to the Board of Education was not enthused by the plan outlined in Bingert's YouTube video. His post on Facebook reads:

"For those parents that feel that the graduation plan presented by Principal Bingert today is wholly inadequate, please take a look at the proposal submitted to the BOE by Mayor Douglas Tomson and Mayor Ray Heck earlier this week.

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"While there remain certain restrictions that we need to work under, this plan allows for an outdoor event with parent participation at one of our local parks and would be compliant with current executive orders. The plan clearly does not replace a traditional graduation but does allow for students to get their diploma on a stage with their parents in attendance.

"I hope Principal Bingert and the BOE will continue to work to make the graduation event as special as possible and not be inflexible to graduation options, especially as the governor appears set to allow more expansive events. The Mayors and I are committed to finding the optimal solution that balances the significance of the graduation ceremony with ensuring a safe event."

Millstone Mayor Raymond Heck also signed on to the proposal sent to school officials by Tomson.