SOUTH PLAINFIELD, NJ – The announcement many high school seniors throughout the Garden State have been hoping for was rendered Tuesday with Governor Phil Murphy announcing that in-person graduation ceremonies, with restrictions, may take place after July 6. 

“To the Class of 2020: Beginning July 6th, schools WILL have the opportunity to hold outdoor graduation ceremonies that comply with social distancing – ensuring the health and safety of all in attendance,” stated New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy on Twitter the morning of May 26, adding during that day's press briefing that he is ‘proud to say that you will have your opportunity to join with your classmates and families to celebrate your graduation.’

The governor’s announcement means the South Plainfield School District can consider an in person ceremony, however, according to district officials, the specifics are still being ironed out. “We are closely watching the numbers the governor will allow for an outdoor ceremony and will take our guidance from the governor and the New Jersey State Department of Education,” said Superintendent Dr. Noreen Lishak, telling TAPinto South Plainfield that the district will be announcing its plan June 1; a virtual senior parent planning meeting will also be held that evening to discuss graduation as well as other key issues, including prom and yearbooks. 

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According to state officials, South Plainfield, along with any other New Jersey school district that wishes to hold a graduation ceremony must follow guidelines set forth by the New Jersey Department of Education and the Office of the Secretary of Higher Education to protect the health of students and families celebrating these milestones amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

As of press time, a definitive list of measures had yet to be released, however, the following restrictions, among others, are expected: Commencements must be held outdoors and adhere to stringent social distancing protocols and capacity restrictions; to ensure capacity restrictions are not exceeded, districts will be required to determine the minimum number of staff and faculty necessary to facilitate commencement ceremonies and adjust attendance requirements accordingly as well as coordinate all activities in consultation with municipal officials, such as the local office of emergency management, local law enforcement, first responders, and local health officials. 

Under the governor’s plan, no in-person ceremony can take place prior to July 6 and commencements for middle and high school only are allowed; no ceremonies that mark promotion from one grade to the next will be permitted. Additionally, if applicable, 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. Districts and institutions of higher education, however, can continue to opt for virtual or drive-through/drive-in ceremonies held in accordance with Executive Order 142 with virtual ceremonies the only option for those ceremonies taking place prior to July 6. 

“Our goal is to provide our students the send-offs they richly deserve and which they have been working toward. We want them to celebrate and for them to be celebrated by their families, friends, and the educators who helped get them there,” said Murphy, adding, “Certainly, these will be graduations unlike any others, the steps we are taking to ensure the health and safety of everyone in attendance, and we are equally confident that no one will forget the way we celebrate the Class of 2020.”

There are 250 students in the South Plainfield High School Class of 2020 and, currently, outdoor gatherings are restricted to 25 people. Earlier this month, the district announced that a virtual ceremony is planned for Tuesday, June 16, the last day of school. 

"Dr. Lishak and the administration have been very diligent in preparing several graduation options that will be the best we can do for our students under any restrictions we are given," said Doug Chapman, president of the South Plainfield Board of Education. "No stone has been left unturned; rest assured, all options are being planned for."

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