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What will graduations look like this summer? New Jersey releases expanded guidance
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What will graduations look like this summer? New Jersey releases expanded guidance

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Egg Harbor Towmship Graduation 2019

Egg Harbor Township High School 2019 graduation, Friday June 21, 2019. (VERNON OGRODNEK / For The Press)

TRENTON — Six-foot distances, masks, temperature checks at the entrance and other measures will be in place when middle schools, high schools and colleges hold in-person graduation ceremonies this summer.

The guidelines, which were promised Tuesday by Gov. Phil Murphy after announcing that schools would be permitted to hold in-person ceremonies beginning July 6, were released by the state Department of Education and Office of the Secretary of Higher Education late Wednesday.

“This year’s graduating class has embraced various challenges and triumphed in the face of a global public health emergency. We know it has been a long journey, and through our guidance published today, we are looking forward to working with institutions of higher education to give our students a sendoff that recognizes their scholastic achievements,” said New Jersey Secretary of Higher Education Zakiya Smith Ellis. “We cannot put New Jersey back on the road to progress and prosperity without our students. We are excited to see what the Class of 2020 will accomplish.”

The guidance has some strict rules based on current restrictions in place due to the COVID-19 public health emergency, and several considerations for districts when planning their events.

While the rules do not put a cap on the number of attendees, they do spell out safety measures, such as that ceremonies must be outdoors, meet the relevant capacity limitation on in-person gatherings in place at the time of the ceremony, and schools must maintain a 6-foot distance between graduates.

They recommend multiple ceremonies for larger classes and shortening ceremonies to limit exposure. Face coverings should be required.

According to the guidance, critical factors districts must consider when planning are limiting staff, assuring equity for those who cannot attend in person and prohibiting sick or recently COVID-positive people from attending. The guidance also included requiring attendees’ temperatures be taken.

In addition to the modified in-person ceremonies, the guidance offers options for virtual, drive-thru and drive-in ceremonies.

Initially, the guidance said that only virtual ceremonies are permitted at this time, but was updated Thursday to include drive-thru and drive-by ceremonies as permitted in accordance with the state’s current regulations, which permit car gatherings as of May 13 and “wave parades” so long as no person is directed to gather in a crowd.

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The New Jersey Department of Education released clarification on this distinction on Thursday evening.

When asked about the discrepancy during his daily media briefing Thursday, Murphy said nothing has changed for drive-thru or drive-in ceremonies.

“Drive-in and drive-thru is still OK,” he said, adding the guidance was aimed at in-person ceremonies where students and faculty members would be physically standing or sitting on, for example, a football field.

Murphy further stated that for drive-in and drive-thru ceremonies, no one is allowed to be outside of their car.

Murphy also declined to say what capacity limitations might be in early July, but said the state would give districts ample notice to prepare.

Some Republican lawmakers have scoffed at the July 6 date and restrictions, and called for a start date of June 15 instead.

“We were thrilled to see what appeared to be acquiescence to our request for outdoor graduation ceremonies, only to find out that the governor has effectively canceled them with his micromanagement,” said Sen. Declan O’Scanlon, R-Monmouth. “As long as they adhere to social distance, they should be permitted from June 15.”

Districts will have to submit plans to the DOE for approval starting June 5, and no later than seven days before the planned ceremony.

This story has been updated Friday, May 29 to reflect current guidance.

Contact: 609-272-7251

CLowe@pressofac.com

Twitter @clairelowe

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Staff Writer

I began covering South Jersey in 2008 after graduating from Rowan University with a degree in journalism. I joined The Press in 2015. In 2013, I was awarded a NJPA award for feature writing as a reporter for The Current of Hamilton Township.

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