WAYNE, NJ – Last week Governor Phil Murhpy announced that his administration would allow in-person graduation ceremonies after July 6. However, these ceremonies must follow certain guidelines, and these guidelines are so strict that Wayne Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Mark Toback is unsure what kind of in-person ceremony the district will be able to provide for Wayne’s high school seniors.

“While the headlines in the media may have raised hopes that traditional in-person graduation events are allowable in July, further reading reveals that graduation events planned under this guidance will not resemble the kind of in-person graduation events the school community was hoping to see,” said Toback.

“Currently, no event can be held indoors, and outdoor events are limited to 25 people,” he continued. “While this may change slightly, each of our high schools have well over 300 graduating students, so it will not be possible for all members of the Class of 2020 to assemble for the kind of sendoff we would love to give them.”

Sign Up for Wayne Newsletter
Our newsletter delivers the local news that you can trust.

The District is looking at options as they wait for updated guidelines from the state. These options may include holding multiple, smaller ceremonies, limiting the number of guests, screening attendees for fever before allowing anyone in. Restroom usage must be considered as well as face coverings and ensuring social distancing.

There is no simple answer here, but the Wayne Schools Administration and the Board of Education are looking into all possible ways to honor the 2020 graduates and make the ceremonies as close to “normal” as possible.

Right now, seniors and their parents have been asked by the school district to hold July 30 for the date of an in-person event.  In a letter to seniors dated May 15, Toback wrote: “On July 30, an in-person event to celebrate the Class of 2020 will be held based on collaborative planning efforts at each high school and under whatever social distancing requirements exist.” This message also stated the uncertainty of what the celebration would look like, or even if it would be possible to happen at all.

Whatever the ultimate plan will be, Dr. Toback must submit the plan to the Department of Education for review and approval before the event can take place.

----------

Some critical factors for the Wayne school district to consider for a modified in-person ceremony include:

Staff limits: Schools should limit the number of staff members to only those required to facilitate the commencement ceremony;

Sick individuals: Sick individuals should not attend. DOH and federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines can provide direction for those experiencing COVID-19 symptoms. Districts should discourage attendance if a visitor or someone in their household is experiencing symptoms of respiratory illness or if they have been in close contact with someone diagnosed with COVID-19 in the past 14 days.

Screening: Schools should consider screening visitors upon arrival with non-contact thermometers and excluding any person with a temperature exceeding 100.4 °F.

Equity: Districts are encouraged to ensure that graduation ceremonies are inclusive and accessible for all students and families. Accommodations should be made for families that may not be able to attend in-person.

Certification to the DOE: School districts that plan to hold a drive-in/drive-thru or modified in-person ceremony must certify to the Department of Education, via an online submission form that will be made available on June 5 that their planned ceremony will comply with applicable requirements for gatherings, including those addressing social distancing.  The form must be submitted no later than seven days prior to the scheduled date of the ceremony.

Modified In-Person Graduation Ceremonies

In addition to the above considerations, the DOE guidance addresses a number of factors for districts to consider in the planning of modified in-person graduation ceremonies, including:

Local review: School districts should plan ceremonies in consultation with municipal officials (local law enforcement, local health officials, etc.);

Location: Modified in-person commencement ceremonies must take place outdoors. Indoor ceremonies are not permitted. Open-air rain tarps, tents, and other outdoor structures may be used only to protect against foul weather or for shade;

Attendance: Schools may consider limiting the number of guests or holding student-only commencements. Ceremonies must meet the relevant capacity limitation on in-person gatherings in place at the time of the ceremony;

Social distancing: Attendees must remain six feet apart at all times, excluding immediate family members, caretakers, household members, or romantic partners. Schools should consider using tape or other materials to demarcate six feet of distance between students and attendees while standing and walking, and ensure that all seating for students, guests and staff allows for six feet of distance between persons.

Multiple ceremonies: Districts should consider class size and available space to determine the number of ceremonies needed. Districts should follow CDC and DOH protocols for cleaning in between ceremonies and consider holding ceremonies over the span of several days.

Duration: Districts should consider limiting the length of ceremonies to shorten the time students and attendees are exposed to each other. Districts should also limit speakers and live performances and avoid the sharing of microphones or other equipment that may pose a health risk.

Entrances/exits: Districts should assign staff to monitor entrances and exits to prevent congregation and consider staggering arrival times to ease crowds at access points. If possible, districts should utilize multiple entrance and exit points.

Face coverings: In accordance with CDC recommendations, attendees should wear face coverings (except for children under 2 or in cases that would inhibit a person’s health).

In addition, to limit person-to-person contact, districts should provide diplomas and caps/gowns to students in advance of graduation ceremonies. Programs, maps, and other documents can be emailed or mailed to families before the ceremony. Sharing or exchanging materials of any kind poses an increased risk of transmission/spread of COVID-19 and should be avoided. Chairs and other equipment should not be shared and should be sanitized before and after use.

Drive-Thru and Drive-In Commencement Ceremonies

Drive-thru and drive-in commencement ceremonies can be held in school parking lots, drive-in movie theaters, stadium parking lots, or other large parking lot venues that provide sufficient space to accommodate event attendees arriving in their cars. Projection screens or sound equipment may be used to allow school staff to call student names, display photos or videos, and provide other audio-visual support.

Some major factors involving drive-thru and drive-in ceremonies include:

Drive-thru and drive-in commencement ceremonies must comply with all requirements of Executive Order 142  or the rules or requirements for vehicular gatherings that are in place at the time of the ceremony.

Accommodations should be made to allow families without vehicles to participate while adhering to social distancing protocols.

If allowing access to restrooms, take appropriate measures to prevent congregation and consult with health officials on disinfection protocols;.

Multiple ceremonies may be needed depending on class size.

Consider potential broadcasting of the ceremony or otherwise making a livestream available for family members unable to attend.

Organizers or others assisting with the event, and who are not in closed vehicles, must follow all applicable executive orders and administrative orders and must wear face coverings, except where doing so would inhibit that individual’s health.

Virtual Ceremonies

DOE has previously provided guidance regarding virtual ceremonies, which may be held at any time. The DOE notes that virtual ceremonies are the safest alternative graduation ceremony at this time.

The DOE’s full guidance on virtual ceremonies is online.