School await new rules on graduations

Millburn senior class president Jamie Serruto’s thrilled that Gov. Phil Murphy lifted the lockdown on in-person high school graduations ceremonies. He and other students lobbied Murphy in a letter. Murphy relented Tuesday, announcing that starting July 6, New Jersey middle school, high school and college graduates will get the chance to gather, celebrate and toss their mortarboards.

Albeit at a safe social distance. It won’t look like a traditional graduation. New guidelines ban traditional crowds crammed into bleachers. All ceremonies must be held outside, and possibly divided into different sections if a graduating class is too big to assemble safely all at once. Districts will have to consult their local health and police departments. It will look different depending on the district.

“Whether or not family members are able to attend in person at all, and what number of family members may or may not be able to attend in person, is going to vary widely across districts. And that’s just for the districts that choose to have in-person ceremonies. We have many districts that are going to stick with their plans to conduct virtual ceremonies, drive-through or drive-in ceremonies. They have to do what’s right for their communities,” said Kate Gallagher, deputy commissioner for field services at the New Jersey Department of Education.

“We’re all willing to take all necessary guidelines to be safe,” Serruto said. “Willing to go without an audience, willing to go without parents. I think the biggest piece is allowing us to be together, even for a fraction giving that in-person feel.”

Serruto’s also an elected member of Millburn’s Board of Education. His mom’s elated after guiding five kids through the system. Even if she has to watch it livestreamed, she wants seniors to have a personal experience.

“Give each other air high fives, whatever. It’s just a little time capsule that will stay with you for the rest of your life,” his mom Ellen Serruto said.

Millburn’s got ample open field space for spreading out a graduation ceremony for its 365 seniors without spreading the virus.

Trenton High School isn’t sure how it’ll ultimately handle graduation this year, but celebrated its senior class Wednesday with photo cards planted on the front lawn and watered by happy tears.

“They were talking about doing just the car procession, and now perhaps we can use the new stadium that’s outside in back,” said Trenton Mayor Reed Gusciora.

“We need to do something special and we think that the governor’s announcement yesterday really gives us some options on what to look at,” said Trenton Public Schools Interim Superintendent Ronald Lee.

Paterson Superintendent Eileen Shafer had already set up virtual graduations for June 19 to celebrate the 1,500 seniors from 14 high schools. Now they’ll add 10 in-person ceremonies for students who want to participate, and hope to safely include two guests per graduate at Bauerle Field. COVID-19’s killed more than 300 in densely-populated Paterson.

“There may be a some parents, guardians, or even graduates who don’t feel safe coming out into a crowd, so they’ll have the virtual. But then those that wanted to come out, now they have an opportunity to do that,” Shafer said.

Educators say seniors and their families deserve to mark the occasion.

“This is the last time we can be together, and this is turning a new page,” said Serruto.