Fine Print: New Jersey Guidance for High School Graduations

State lays out three options for what is — and isn’t — allowed for commencement ceremonies, starting July 6
Credit: (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
New Orleans Charter Science and Math High School class of 2020 holds a drive-in graduation ceremony as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Title: “COVID-19 — Alternatives to Traditional Commencement Ceremonies (Update)”

Author: The New Jersey Department of Education

Where to find it:  NJ DOE website

What it is: Gov. Phil Murphy on Tuesday said he would ease restrictions for outdoor graduations, allowing them to take place under certain restrictions, starting July 6. The guidance released late Wednesday lays out the specifics, down to how family pictures would work and diplomas handed out.

What it means: Since Murphy’s announcement, questions have persisted about what exactly he had in mind for outdoor graduations, an emotional issue, given the pandemic and its effect on schools. But at this point in the school year, the guidance is likely to effect various districts differently. Some, for instance, already have plans in place for virtual ceremonies. Still, there are sure to be many looking for a chance to hold some sort of outdoor celebration.

Quote: “Recognizing that graduation is a major milestone for students and families, Gov. Murphy is committed to providing school districts with maximum flexibility to honor graduating classes while abiding by health and safety requirements and guidelines that continue to evolve based on the latest public health data.”

The three options:

Virtual ceremonies:

  • Totally online and remote, using technology and video and other virtual platforms to mark the occasion.
  • The state’s clear preference: “DOE recommends that districts take full advantage of virtual ceremonies, which are the safest alternative graduation ceremony at this time.”
  • Specific guidance for virtual ceremonies.

Drive-through ceremonies:

  • Located in large parking lots or other spaces where attendees can attend by car and watch a ceremony and commemorative videos on a screen.
  • “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.”
  • Accommodations must also be made for those not coming in cars.
  • Due the space required, multiple ceremonies may be considered.

Outdoor ceremonies:

  • Full social-distancing rules, a minimum of six feet, excluding immediate family.
  • Limited contact between attendees, with recommendations for passing diplomas electronically, for example.
  • Students permitted to walk individually across stage and be available for a photograph.
  • Strict rules for photography to limit crowding; consider a staff photographer who would share images afterward.
  • “Strongly encourage limiting the length of ceremonies to shorten the time the crowd is exposed to each other.”
  • Limited speeches and performances to minimize risk of transmission onstage or even with shared microphones.
  • Face coverings “strongly encouraged.”
  • “Schools may want to consider limiting the number of guests that are permitted to attend the ceremony or holding student-only commencements.”
  • Recommended rules asking any individual who is sick or showing symptoms not to attend, including possible temperature screenings for all those entering the venue.

What’s next: Districts that plan to hold an outdoor or drive-through ceremony must submit their plans to the state at least seven days prior to the event.

NJTV News report: Plans were being made as schools awaited the new rules