Outdoor Graduation Ceremonies
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UPDATE: Governor Murphy announced during his press conference today that he expects the capacity on large gatherings to increase to 500 by July 3rd. He said that schools planning their outdoor graduation experiences should plan their ceremonies with a maximum capacity of 500 in attendance. Schools where there are more students than this will have to split the event into multiple separate experiences.

If you’ve been mourning the loss of not being able to experience the milestone that is high school graduation for your kids or others, there’s some renewed hope. Beginning July 6, schools can have outdoor graduation ceremonies as long as they comply with social distancing, Governor Murphy announced today during his press conference.

“To the class of 2020: You will have your opportunity to join with your classmates and your family to celebrate your graduation,” said Murphy. 

The NJDOE released its rules around graduation experiences. The new rules do stipulate that schools must send in a compliance application to the NJDOE  seven days prior to the event. There will be many restrictions and rules around these outdoor only ceremonies. Full details from the Department of Education and the Office of the Secretary of Higher Education include the following (you can see the full list here)

  • School districts that plan to hold a drive-in/drive-through or modified in-person ceremony must certify to the NJDOE, via an online submission form that will be made available on June 5, 2020 on https://covid19.nj.gov/, 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, outdoor ceremonies and drive-through/drive-in ceremonies may only occur on or after July 6, 2020
  • Districts should keep municipal officials, including the local Office of Emergency Management, local law enforcement, first responders, and local health officials informed of their plans for ceremonies.
  • Districts and institutions must determine the minimum number of staff and faculty necessary to facilitate commencement ceremonies and adjust attendance requirements accordingly;
  • 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
  • Ensure that graduation ceremonies are inclusive and accessible for all students and families. Consider making livestreams available for those individuals who are excluded from the event.
  • Consider equity issues, such as access to vehicles to participate in drive-through/drive-in ceremonies.
  • Institutions should also consider conducting temperature screenings with non-contact thermometers of everyone entering the venue. Where such screenings are conducted, any person with a temperature of 100.4 °F or greater should be excluded from the event.
  • Individuals who are sick should be encouraged not to attend; see CDC guidelines for what individuals should do if they are sick and to see a list of possible COVID-19 symptoms. Consider posting signage discouraging anyone from attending if they or anyone in their household is experiencing symptoms of respiratory illness or if they have been in close contact with anyone diagnosed with COVID-19 in the past 14 days.

Complaints are already funneling in on Murphy’s Facebook page from parents who are upset that their events are postponed until July, but Murphy didn’t address these complaints. He did ask that people remain patient as they determine the limits and restrictions, and acknowledged that they will give school districts as much time as possible to plan and organize these events with full restrictions in place.

While he didn’t reveal a limit yet, he did acknowledge that larger schools may have to split their ceremony over multiple days in order to accommodate the number of students and still remain within the capacity limits and social distancing rules. 

“Our goal is to give our students the send-offs they richly deserve,” added Murphy. “And which they have been working toward. We want them to celebrate and to be celebrated by their families, friends and the educators who helped get them there. “


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