EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – New Jersey schools are upending plans for graduation following word from Gov. Phil Murphy this week that the state will allow in-person, socially-distanced commencement ceremonies.
For many, it was the news they had hoped to hear, but it also threw a wrench into plans for alternative and virtual graduations that had been weeks in the making due to stay-at-home orders brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.
"We have a team working on putting together in-person graduation," said Paterson Schools Superintendent Eileen Shafer, whose district includes 14 high school programs and about 1,500 seniors. "We’re going to ensure social distancing. Everyone will have a mask or face covering. We’re going to make this work for the kids. That’s what it's all about."
Pictures of Becton Regional High School seniors are shown on Paterson Avenue in East Rutherford, N.J. The school district, which includes East Rutherford and Carlstadt, raised money to put up banners throughout the towns depicting all (approximately 130) graduating seniors.
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Murphy announced Tuesday that the state will allow outdoor graduation ceremonies starting July 6. Late on Wednesday, the state Education Department issued more detailed guidelines, including a requirement that events be held outdoors, that families stay 6 feet apart and that districts "strongly encourage" attendees to wear face coverings.
The department didn't set a limit for the number of people allowed to attend, saying only that districts should comply with whatever state restrictions are in place at the time of the ceremony. Districts can limit the size of the audience or even ban guests altogether, the department said.
Pressure on Gov. Murphy
Parents, school officials and teens had been rallying for New Jersey to ease restrictions for the class of 2020, who have been out of school since at least March 18 because of the health crisis. The state was hit hard by the virus: It ranks second to neighboring New York in both the number of coronavirus deaths and hospitalizations, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.