NORTH CALDWELL, NJ — Amid increasing pressure from students and their families, Gov. Phil Murphy announced on 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.

According to Murphy, the graduation ceremonies will be permitted to begin after July 6 as long as the events comply with the social distancing requirements.

After hearing the news on Tuesday, West Essex Regional Superintendent Damion Macioci said the school district would “wait for guidelines from the governor and the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) before making any definitive plans,” but that it would be “nice to have the opportunity to recognize the Class of 2020 on [the West Essex] campus in some format.”

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“We will continue planning and consider a ceremony after July 6 as an option,” said West Essex High School (WEHS) Principal Caesar Diliberto. “But we will also be poised to execute other plans should guidelines change again.”

Prior to the governor’s latest announcement, Diliberto acknowledged that “guidelines regarding graduation are changing almost daily” and released a letter to the community stating that WEHS “has not committed to any graduation format and will not do so until the latest possible moment.”

According to the principal, the district has been planning for four individual graduation scenarios and has been working in conjunction with local authorities, including the North Caldwell Police Department and the Caldwell Health Department, in order to “execute whichever graduation ceremony [the district] safely can within state orders on or about June 19.”

Plans are underway for the following scenarios, all of which would be livestreamed:

  1. Virtual graduation. 
    “A virtual graduation would be followed by an appropriate diploma distribution on the West Essex campus giving students and families the opportunity for photographs and hearing individual names over the loudspeakers,” said Diliberto.
     
  2. Socially distanced graduation with limited attendance. 
    “Graduates will be socially distanced on the field, and only parents will receive tickets to attend with assigned seating,” said Diliberto.
     
  3. Socially distanced graduation with students only.
     
  4. Full-scale graduation. 
    “However unlikely, we will still be able to execute our complete West Essex Commencement with only days notice,” said Diliberto.

Administrators from the Caldwell-West Caldwell school district did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the governor's decision. 

According to Murphy, the NJDOE is expected to release guidance on the graduations on Wednesday, including logistical provisions for such events, how many people will be permitted to attend, etc.

“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,” said Murphy. 

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,” he said. “We want them to celebrate and be celebrated by their families, friends and the educators who helped get them there.”

Murphy’s announcement follows calls from both students and parents for the state to permit graduation ceremonies, including hand-written letters from seniors throughout the state and online petition posted to Change.org that had nearly 60,000 signatures as of Tuesday morning.