SOMERVILLE, NJ - High School principal Jerry Foley began the long process of saying good-bye to each member of the senior class Wednesday, but even as they went through the motions of a truncated graduation ceremony outside the school Wednesday, Foley remained hopeful that the class of 2020 might still get the traditional send-off they've earned sometime in July.
But that hope comes with a considerable caveat.
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy has to say it's OK, but Foley is hopeful that the restrictions on crowd sizes imposed during the COVID-19 pandemic will continue to ease.
On June 9, Murphy signed an executive order that increases the limits on both indoor and outdoor gatherings.
The new ceiling for outdoor gatherings is 100 people; social distancing must be adhered to, with individuals remaining six feet apart.
The governor had set a limit of 10 people when he initially shut down the state in March, but had since increased the crowd size limit to 25. At his June 9 press conference, he indicated higher limits are likely in the not-so-distant future, which has given Foley some hope that he can bring the seniors back to the high school campus on Davenport Street for a full-blown high school graduation ceremony on the football field behind the school building.
As health data collected on the spread of the COVID-19 in New Jersey continues to trend downward, Murphy said he is prepared to raise the outdoor limits to 250 on June 22 and 500 on July 3, just prior to the holiday weekend.
With 272 seniors in the class of 2020, parents, teachers and administrators, the 500-person ceiling on crowd size, if approved, might not be enough to accommodate everyone that would be entitled to participate in the graduation ceremony, according to Foley.
Murphy previously announced school districts could hold outdoor graduation ceremonies beginning July 6.
"We'll see what happens," Foley said.
In the meantime, Somerville High School will continue with its farewell to the 272 seniors in the class of 2020 which began Wednesday and will continue Friday;Thursday's schedule was canceled because rain is expected, according to Foley.
Seniors and their families are scheduled to arrive at the school on a staggered basis; there are three outdoor pavilions set up in the school parking lot, the rear of the school adjacent to the football field, and the side of the school. Students are dropping off textbooks, picking up the contents of their lockers which has been boxed up by school staff, and posing for pictures with Foley.
As they leave, they are invited to retrieve the lawn sign with their formal graduation photo that has been staked on either side of the school's main entrance.